Friday, June 15, 2012

Biodiversity


This week, Jeremy and I started our vegetable deliveries into the GTA. We harvested and packaged bok choy, spinach, leeks and salad greens all Monday and most of Tuesday, and then packed up the van to drive in to Toronto. The roads were clear sailing until we reached the 401, where we slowed to a crawl all the way to the 427 and down to the Gardiner. Doesn't bode well for Toronto traffic this year :(

We made some Tuesday night deliveries before settling in at a friend's for the night, and spent Wednesday morning walking around the downtown core with our carts of vegetables. After lunch, we arrived at the Scadding-Kensington Farmers' Market (Dundas & Bathurst) to set up our market stand. I left Jeremy there to tend the market while I made some last vegetable deliveries before returning. At 7 pm, we packed up our market materials and then spent the next hour in traffic, trying to get out of Toronto to return to the farm. We got home around 10:30 pm.

A rather gruelling start to the week, but on the ride home, from 9-10 pm, we listened to IDEAS on CBC with the topic 'Buying Into Biodiversity'. I found this to be an inspiring episode as it was a panel discussion moderated by IDEAS host Paul Kennedy of various environmental scientists who were at the 2012 Muskoka Environmental Summit. From the Summit's communique: “Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth. It emcompasses all living things and their relationships to each other, and unites species, ecosystems, and ecological functions. Biodiversity is about being connected – all species, including humans, depend on each other to survive...There are multiple threats to biodiversity, globally and locally. The threats include population growth, climate change, unsustainable use of the Earth's resources (including water and air), invasive species, and pollution. Together, these fragment or destroy ecosystems, endanger species and cause ecosystem services to deteriorate...We need an economy in sync with ecological limits, which means market signals and economic incentives that direct us towards ecological sustainability.”

Two main points that really struck me from the panel discussion were these. One, that the public needs to be informed enough to care enough to pressure our politicians, our society, to change. This means that the science needs to be easily understood and it has to touch people deeply enough to motivate people to action. One scientist on the panel discussed how butterflies, so loved by many for their beauty and grace, could be used as a touchstone of sorts to explain how things are changing in our environment and the consequences to them, as a micro example of what's happening with most other species too. Second, that though the scientific message of climate change, environmental degradation, etc., may seem like doom and gloom that any of us as individuals are powerless to change, that this is simply not the case. While we should certainly look at the global picture, it's individual, local changes, adding up all over the world, that will actually make the difference.

Listening to this program reminded me of what is at the heart of the way I farm. I didn't leave a financially stable life in Toronto to grow gourmet vegetables on a picturesque farm...I followed my calling to grow food in an environmentally sustainable way. This may mean my vegetables are smaller, or yield less, or have holes in them where bugs have taken bites. This means that I use green manure cover crops and compost to bring fertility to my field. This means that I manage weeds by hand or hoe or mower, that I fight pest insects with my squashing fingers or row cover to keep them off. I choose to do most of my field preparation with a rototiller and limit tractor work on my field, for various compaction and gas guzzling reasons. I also try to avoid rototilling too much to preserve the life that is under the surface of the soil. These are all things that I've chosen to do at my farm because I want to prioritize enhancing biodiversity. I grow many types of vegetables, each with many varieties. And I love seeing all the different kinds of plants, insects and animals that are at my farm. This is my local change. What I do is a drop in the bucket of what's needed to mitigate climate change or to increase biodiversity, but it's more than nothing. And if all of us did something that was more than nothing, the world would change.

Currently, the federal Conservative government is trying to pass a budget bill that would make it easier for us to all ignore the science, to put our heads in the sand, to reduce the measuring of our human impact on our environment so that we can make more money. I make almost no money now, but I hope that what I do is saving for the environment. Because we all live in it, and the next generation has to live in it. I have a niece, and my friends have children, and I may have children myself one day. If we continue to extract money from the environment now with no resources put back into it for the future, then our children should be cursing us for our greed.

My hope is that we all do something, no matter how small, because everything starts somewhere. First, we need to be informed. Frankly, anyone who's still in denial about the reality of climate change and environmental degradation from human activity just doesn't want to feel any responsibility for it. Because we don't want to feel guilty. Who cares about feelings of guilt? Or our inadequacy in the face of such enormous problems? No matter what you do, someone out there's doing more or doing less than you. So we all need to just pick something to do, and do it. Maybe the something is actually participating in democracy by voting or telling your MP or MPP or city counsellor how you feel about issues, and holding them accountable to what you voted for them to do. Maybe it's going out to a protest or writing a letter, making a phone call, signing a petition or donating money to a cause. Maybe it's entering into public service yourself. Maybe it's paying more attention to the things you buy, where they come from, how they're produced, and choosing to buy or not to buy things as a result. Maybe it's showing your children where food is actually grown, or teaching them how to cook. Maybe it's learning how to cook yourself. Clearly, the list of 'something' is very long.

I just quickly checked the news headlines and it appears that the Conservatives have managed to keep their budget bill intact. I've found the past few years of Canadian politics very depressing. Harper winning a majority government is probably the only thing I've cried about since coming to the farm. Apparently, my fellow Canadians believe that less government, lower taxes, and more natural resource extraction are the way to go. I believe in a cooperative government that takes the long view, taxes that are well spent towards long-term goals, and the protection of our natural resources. I can't say how my view will ever be reality, but in the meantime, I'll steward my little piece of land as best I can.