Friday, February 13, 2015

Raising the Bar at Federation of Canadian Municipalities Sustainability Conference

Hello Everyone,

I hope this day finds you well.  We're continuing to have cold weather and this morning there was a dusting of new snow ... which in the sunshine just sparkled!  I don't mind that at all.

Something rather important happened in London over the last few days.  The City hosted planners and politicians  who are members of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities for sessions on sustainability topics.  And a new thing that was arranged was to have 50 local citizens who are members of various environment and community groups be in a think tank sort of session with 50 FCM delegates.

I got to be there, and it was pretty neat! 

The important comments are often overheard in the women's washroom, such as: "This is a great session, great exchange of ideas!" 

It doesn't matter a bit that some ideas came up that some of us had heard before.  Yesterday's session was between people from a lot of different places.  They hadn't heard some of our experiences and we hadn't heard their experiences and projects.  Even people here in London heard about projects they hadn't known about in London.  A lot of business cards and emails were exchanged.  No doubt today the connections started.

And yeah, there was fair bit of mutual admiration, and back patting.  But the thing is, if this was the first time for such an exchange of ideas between planners/politicians from 'cross country and "locals" in the hosting city - and it was the first time - then surely all of us who attended should take a bit of time before a critical or cynical mind kicks in and just think "wow, a step in a good direction".

Another important thing for this session is that we will be getting notes from it.  And there will be follow up for us Londoners at a June date.  I know I always need post-meeting think time to reread notes (I took lots at my table), add more notes in pink pen, and jot ideas about follow up and related things.

One FCM delegate thanked the London organizers and said that after three days her "bucket was full".  Her brain was loaded with information and ideas.  But she was so pleased to have been at those three days.  I spoke with her at the end of the day, and felt kind of proud ... and I hadn't even had anything to do with organizing the event!  I'd just shown up and gotten free lunch and great conversation.

The City staff person behind the event is Jay Stanford, head of environment services.  Enthusiastic, forward-thinking and a planner.  And a real stickler for keeping on task!  Thank you for all the work you did to get this community session.  Any future FCM conferences on sustainability (and maybe generally) will have to have such a host community / delegate session.  There's no going back from this!

So, I've had a good couple of days.  And my own bucket sure is full.

Sending best regards to all,

Why's Woman

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Joel Salatin shows us a new fashioned food system that helps and heals

Hello everyone,

I hope this note finds you well.  We've got snow happening outside.  I don't think we're in for a lot, but it'll clean things up nicely.

As I was trying to find my desk the other day (under all the paper!) I was rewarded with the Dec./January issue of Mother Earth News, which has a particularly good article by one of its regular contributors, Joel Salatin.  Salatin describes himself as a "renegade" farmer.  Salatin, whose Polyface farm is in the Shendoah Valley in Virginia, is "renegade" in the best possible way: someone who rejects conventional ways of doing things.

His article, A 'New-Fashioned' Food System That Helps and Heals, points out that we need to rethink a lot of ideas about farming.  For him "old"-fashioned farming is monoculture, GMO, petroleum input agriculture.  The most up to date farmers are finding ways to use efficient, simple, and energy-saving technologies - many of them right up to the minute as far as the techie crowd goes - to farm well, produce safe healthy food, and give back land that is better than they found it.

He assures us - and particularly any young person thinking of getting into farming - that farming is not going "back" to the land.  It is going forward to regenerate land.

He tells us that the language used to get out the message of good farming "has to be big enough, innovative enough, sacred enough to capture the hearts of all types of people".

I reall like his combination of practicality and spirit.

He tells us we have to "upgrade the language of stewardship". 

We can get out the message that farming and food are integrated; not segregated in their own aspects or from neighbourhoods and society.

We can emphasize that farming and food production are not systems that conquer; they can be thoughtful and practical actions that "caress" the land, that work with and learn from natural processes.  And overall, they are healing and not harming.

Salatin's full article is worth reading. His own words are more inspiring than my summary!  The link to his MEN article is below.  And his website is sure worth a look too, and has audio and video interviews and segments.  His moveable poultry pens are fascinating to me!  And he's written several books, some of which might be in your library.

I hope you are delighted by something you find in his work.

Very best regards!

Why's Woman

Author and "renegade farmer" Joel Salatin calls for food producers to tell a better story of a "new-fashioned" food system that rejects the industrial agriculture paradigm while embracing technology.
By Joel Salatin, Mother Earth News, December 2014/January 2015

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Water in the City ... how'd that get me thinking about Dad?

Hello everyone,

I hope this post finds you well.  I 'specially hope you haven't had a bout of the flu that's been going 'round this post-Christmas and January 2015.  I had several miserable days of it, followed by three weeks of something akin to sleeping sickness!  Been years since something knocked me out the way this has.

But, I'm pretty well over it and trying to reconcile the fact that I can only do so much.  This evening I was online reading, and ...

I'm 59.  When I was a kid, National Geographic Magazine only came by subscription.  I didn't realize way back then how lucky I was that my England-born, school-leaving-at-grade-six father subscribed.  I don't know what experiences led him to be interested in the whole world, the world that came into our home through National Geographic.  Perhaps it was his 14 years in the British Army, 1937-1951, serving in Egypt, Malta, and Palestine.

Dad was born February 7, 1912; died June 1, 1992.  In Stratford, Ontario, where he emigrated to in 1951, he became a house painter and paper hanger, and worked at that until he retired.  I've got a feeling I underestimated him, probably a lot.

Today I was browsing the City Farmer website as I do most days, and ran across a National Geographic article Securing Water for Urban Farms (  The article outlines some ways in which cities can capture and use water for use in urban farms.  The article also points out that water issues are everywhere we look. 

And we need to look around us more.

Last year I happened to have a chat with one of the senior London, Ont. city staff - found out that we don't have such a thing as a reservoir to hold captured rainwater.  I was sort of surprised by that because I've been at Planning and Environment meetings where the topic was problems caused by stormwater run-off mixing with the sewer system, and overwhelming the water treatment system.  That means that too much rainwater goes down the drain (so to speak). 

The staff person did say that he figured there'd be a need for rainwater capture in future as energy/economy changes.  He's no slouch when it comes to big picture stuff.

When I look across the road from my place during a rainstorm all I see is cubic meters of rainwater running down paved road and asphalt parking areas, rushing into the sewers, not having any way to get onto land and benefit growing plants ... not having a way to become a part of the "ecosystem services" a city needs to keep its natural areas growing.  And not just its natural areas down by the river, but water to keep the lawns and gardens of homeowners flourishing.  All the water gets taken away before it gets to urban lawns; properties and roadways and sidewalks are sloped to take the water away.

How often have you seen a "berm" cleverly holding in a parking lot so it doesn't escape ... and the berm is sloped so that any rainwater immediately runs off onto the sidewalk and thus onto the road and down the sewer?  So there's no chance for the rainwater to linger and soak into the carefully arranged "planting" of four spirea and a pampas grass (even with the artificially straight ditch enclosing them).  Even the drive in/out of the parking lot circles the garden with a curb, so any rain going onto the parking lot rushes down the in/out road and away.  Not a chance for those four spirea and pampas grass.

My "one thing" done today may be to have read the article on water and to think about how important it is.

What's your experience? 

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas wishes ... and moving forward

Hello Everyone,

I hope this note finds you well, and that you have had a Happy Christmas. I hope you had some time to sit or take a walk, visit with someone you wanted to check in with, be as busy or as relaxed as you wanted to be.

Around here, we've had rain for the last few days on and off - altho' it's sunny right now and I think I'll do some laundry and get it outside to dry.  

I'm sure that for most of the years of my childhood there was snow for Christmas, so, no matter what I try to tell myself about how Christmas is spirit and family, and no matter how tasty dinner was, and no matter that everyone liked their gifts ... well, I have this feeling of something not quite right.  And, in the way of synchronicity, I thought I'd check in with Elizabeth May's blog and her last post was her December 14 post about the Climate Change talks she'd attended in Lima, Peru, earlier this month.

I'd followed her posts from Lima, where talks went two days longer than scheduled, and it seemed like no agreement of any kind was possible between the many countries.  Well, there was an agreement of sorts ... at least an agreement that countries were agreeing to keep talking; as May said tho', climate activists were not happy.  

May is an optimist in her very nature, which I admire and appreciate.  She points out that the U.S. did not pull out of the talks, no country did. 

Her optimism is of the best kind, based in practicality, based in working from the situation at hand, based in encouraging those of us who aren't politicians to keep communicating with the politicians.  To us Canadians she says: "Between now and next year at COP21 we need to keep a focus on the climate.  We need to demand that Canada meet the weak pledge Harper made in Copenhagen.  We must insist that Canada meet the agreed upon goal for all developed nations ... and to do so in the first quarter of 2015 ... and above all else, we need to make sure that climate change is an election issue." And she goes on to say "This is a moment that allows us to think like a human family. We need to make the most of 2015."

My blunt opinion is that the only way Canada can go forward without being shamed internationally is to get rid of the dictatorship that exists at the Federal level of government, that cabal that names itself after its leader, and is already putting out national commercials saying to elect that leader ... completely ignoring that we do not elect that person, he is elected in his riding.
I'll give some praise to provincial and municipal officials who recognize that at their levels of governance they can move on a huge range of issues that affect climate change, without needing federal o.k.  Change is going to come from everywhere, everyone ... except that guy currently at the "top" and his phrase-perfect clones.

Get radical everyone ... radical in the meaning of root.  Root yourselves in ideals and ideas, root yourselves in local support.  

Enjoy a few days off over this so-advertised "holiday" season if you really do have time off from paid or family work.

And then find your support, find your concerns, find your place in the big picture of change. 

With kindest regards as the daylight comes back,

Why's Woman

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pollinator Health Strategy for Ontario - everyone has a say

Hello everyone,

I hope this note finds you well.  

Over the last months - well, over a year - I've been doing so much reading about bees and other pollinators, and neocotinoid insecticides that I've sometimes thought I'd burst.  

Today  I attended the first of four public meetings, set up by the Ontario Agriculture and Environment ministries, to receive comment on a proposed Pollinator Health Strategy (PHS).  The controversial part of the PHS is its aspirational goal of reducing use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soy seed by 80 percent. 

People with very different perspectives exchanged ideas and opinions. Facilitators ensured everyone participated.  I am an urbanite concerned about food systems, environment and economy; differing opinions around the table did not "dilute" my comments.  I use that word "dilute" because the Grain Farmers of Ontario complained that their opinions would be diluted if they made them in a room full of city dwellers.  I've got to admit, that hurt my feelings at first  ... then I just laughed about how silly it was.

Isn't it supposed to be a good strategy to "be at the table", hearing what the other guy is saying?  Or, to use the joke, Isn't that the same as "keep your friends close and your enemies closer"?  (I figure members of Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) were at the meeting despite advising its members to boycott it; good strategy would require it)

The PHS recommendation to reduce acreage planted using neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds is based on peer-reviewed studies of  those insecticides' negative effects on pollinators, arthropods, and birds.   

Ag/chem interests are always saying we should base our decisions on "sound science". "Science" is a set of methods for gathering and interpreting information.  Rigorous scientific method may or may not give you the answer you want to a question; getting an answer you do not want does not make the "science" unsound. 

In my thinking the science behind the PHS is pretty sound.  And I've sure done the reading over the last year!

There are actually even stronger measures I'd like to see our provincial government take, and I'd like to have a much expanded over-arching pollinator health strategy than is outlined in the proposal.  I'm hoping the big picture stuff will be more fully worked up in the report due out July 2015.  

But I'm really pleased to see my provincial government take a step ahead of other provinces and the feds, and acknowledge that something has to be done to save our ecosystem and food supply, and to come up with a practical measure to make change ... even tho' it's ticked off the big ag chemical companies to a degree they haven't been ticked off in years.  

O.k., ... I admit ... especially since it's ticked 'em off.

Good on ya, ministers Leal in agriculture and Murray in Environment and Climate Change. 

Very best regards.  I hope your day was as satisfying as mine.

Why's Woman

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A New-Fashioned Food System


I hope this day finds you well!  The new issue of Mother Earth News landed in my mail box this morning and Joel Salatin's article got me all excited and into writing mode.  I've cross-posted this to the Community Gardens London website, which I try to keep up to date.

Very best regards!

Wise Woman

"Conscientious farmers need to do a better job of explaining their proven, cutting-edge methods"

This is the message in Joel Salatin's newest post in the Dec14/Jan15 issue of Mother Earth News.

"If I denounce genetically modified organisms (GMOs), I'm naive and anti-science. If I disagree with a food-safety policy that criminalizes an artisan who sells homemade yogurt to a friend at church, I'm an anarchist."

Salatin says that healthful food producers and environmentalists have to develop and use better language to explain and promote what we do. When we denounce something, we have to spend time and energy defending against the corporate cries against us.

Our time and energy is better used in promoting what we know to be better. Find new language to say why we are for something, use it with all the media-savvy we can, and get on with it.

What lexicon works? Salatin says "It has to be big enough, innovative enough, sacred enough to capture the hearts of all types of people"

We have to get away from the corporate/media promoted idea that we want to go "back" to old farming techniques or, in the case of environment issues, to non-technologic times. 

Acknowledge that people don't want to go "back". Even as we find ourselves media'd and consumer'd out - is it Christmas yet? - most of us don't want to be thought out of date. And frankly, we don't want to do all the labour we associate with "old-fashioned".

Food production systems are even more amazing than we ever realized, and deserve respect and care.

We can promote that what's newest is based firmly on the literal groundwork of generations of gardeners, farmers, and environmentalists. And yes, this is all based on good science and its practical applications can give food producers a living wage.

Salatin suggests we tell people that we want "integrated food and farming rather than segregated". Then we can speak enthusiastically about how the new farming understands the interactions between soil microbiology and animal and plant health, and both embraces and innovates technologies that save time and extend seasons. .

He goes on to explain about "food systems that caress rather than conquer" and "healing rather than hurting", and that up-to-date farmers don't use Grandpa's methods. We take his (or Grandma's!) best practices and upgrade them with environmentally sound and practical technologies and ideas.

And he reassures us that "getting a reaction is what we need to do, because it means people are paying attention".

Altogether, a great read.

Note: New-Fashioned Food System s not online yet because it is in the current issue, so a purchase of this excellent magazine or a trip to the library may be in order. A visit to Mother Earth Newswebsite is always interesting and useful. It posts articles from back issues, and its website carries articles on-line only and has blogs and forums about important topics like raising chickens, food, and homesteading (lots of great things even for urbanites). Several of Joel Salatin's books are in the London Public library and his Poly Face Farm website is:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

If we want to make climate action happen we need to hear about the solutions


Hello everyone,

I hope this day finds you well.

I'd like to say thanks to the Guardian News online ( for its environment pages.  There's always something new and interesting.  And altho' there is all the serious stuff, there are often galleries of fascinating photos and sometimes articles like the one I just ran across: If we want to make climate action happen we need to hear about the solutions.  (Mal Chadwick, Guardian News online,, Wednesday 29 October, 2014)

The article tells us that "the biggest threat to progress on climate change is cynicism" ... certainly not a new idea.

What was a pleasant and hopeful surprise was hearing about the 10:10’s #itshappening project's "brighter view to ‘restore a sense of possibility’ on climate action, showcasing real solutions such as this giant suspended bike roundabout."

I don't understand what this even is, but is sort of sounds like fun ... as well as a practical thing that makes bicycling easier.

The 10:10 project also highlights Dutch-style bike lanes planned for Los Angeles, solar-powered hospitals in Haiti and Nepal, a state of the art lifeboat station in Cornwall England that keeps lifeguards warm with the UK’s first marine source heat pump, community-owned river turbines in the Philippines, and an Aberdeenshire hair-dressing salon that reduced its energy use by 90% in its go-green efforts.

The 10:10 project describes its gallery as a simple "selection of things we wish more people knew about – a trove of inspirational stories that team 10:10 find during the year and squirrel away for autumn ... there for people to share, to start conversations with friends and for when you need a reminder of what humanity is capable of."

The 10:10’s #itshappening project is found at and will brighten your day.

Best regards,

Why's Woman