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EcoReality Co-op Newsletter

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Two unexpected visitors drop in on EcoReality.

Comings, goings, future attractions

by Jan Steinman, Communication Steward

It's been an interesting month at EcoReality.

Our volunteer help has been invaluable, and we're very thankful for the generous help from Dave Atkins, Candice Duchesse and Galaad Perrier. Having taught the dam blackberries a lesson, Candice and Galaad have left us to see what Tofino is like. (We told them to come back when they got tired of the rain!) Dave is hanging in here for the immediate future, and has been the primary lavender care-giver. And we are looking forward to welcoming Sara Defoor, who will be joining us later this month for a couple weeks or longer. Further in the future, it looks like Jenna Cook will be joining us in July. We could not do this without the generous help of our volunteers!

We had decided to give a theme to each month's meetings and activities (as shown in our meetings schedule), and this month is "Energy Systems Month." We were planning a formal biodiesel production workshop, but other priorities have intruded. We're still planning an informal biodiesel session on Sunday, the 15th, when I'll go over progress we've made on our processor, and perhaps (although no promises!) we'll brew a batch.

But the "theme" idea has not really caught hold yet, as the everyday reality of labour and expenses have been looming on the horizon, with a big property tax bill coming soon. You can review how we've been thinking about operational assessments and a proposed operational expenses policy. Needless to say, these are difficult enough things for four people to come to agreement on, but we have the added burden of trying to think in a fair and equitable way about many people to come!

One of the "comings" this past month is a huge slash pile we rescued from our neighbors, who were just going to burn this valuable stuff. We've been using the smaller bits on the berms we've been constructing from blackberry vines and other biomass, the bigger bits will go in the woodstove next winter, and the "in-between" bits will be chipped and spread as mulch. There is a growing "berm, not burn" movement on the island that we are helping to encourage, and it looks like there's a huge supply of biomass available to those who will take the time to gather it up.

We'd also like to welcome our new cottage residents, who have been interested in Permaculture and sustainable living for some time. They both have a strong interest in what we're trying to accomplish here, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more of them in the future!

This month, Shannon talks about the importance of local food, James delves into the world of labour and expenses, and Carol reviews the farm work done this past month.

I hope you enjoy this edition of our newsletter, and we hope you'll be joining us for a meeting, work party, or other scheduled (or unscheduled!) activity this month!


Island Natural Growers enjoy a "mostly" local meal at EcoReality.

Eating Locally

by Shannon Cowan, Ecology Steward

Organics may be the new ‘black’, but ‘locavores’ take the reigns at the helm of the newest trend in food

We all know the basics of being a responsible “Green” citizen, one with global consciousness, one who “cares” about the environment and who is prepared to take action. However, these days in the mainstream -- let alone the ecovillage/communities movement -- it is no longer enough to ride your bicycle or reuse yogurt containers. Indeed, the newest emerging credo in “ethical right action” is to consume food produced nearest your home! This means food that was primarily (if not exclusively) produced in your local foodshed, if not in your own backyard.

While this may not have the same impact as never driving a fossil-fuel guzzling vehicle, or living off alternative sources of power, it will and does have a serious impact on global conservation of resources in the “peak oil” era, as well as reduction of greenhouse gases and climate change. Moreover, government research supports a need for re-designing local food systems.

Historical perspective

The not-so-“Green” revolution post World War II instilled a “productionist” worldview and lead to the creation of input-intensive, resource-degrading, subsidized agriculture in Nort America, Europe and other parts of the globe (Lang and Heasman, 2004).

During that era, the concept of foodshed was extended and blown so out of proportion, that those who produced coffee by the ton never even tasted their product, let alone tasted the bananas or cacao grown by their neighbours, because all the produce was destined for transportation up to 3000 miles from its origins. In the name of “feeding the masses” and promoting technological innovation, this type of agriculture and resulting food system was the dominant paradigm and it continued to gather steam.

Enter organics

Fast forward to the 1970s and Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and one begins to appreciate the long term instability and energetic imbalances being fostered by the productionist food system worldwide. Out of several converging traditional forms of agriculture, as well as some new “alternative” and “ecologically-based” food system principles, the practice of an “organic food system movement” was born. Fast forward again to the end of the millennium, and see this movement gaining steam. In the mid 1990s, one of the more rapidly growing markets has been that of an “Organic” food movement in the developed world (Lang and Heasman, 124). As an industry sector, Organic has grown exponentially in North America and Europe in the last 20 years, and is projected to continue to do so. In Canada, this is the fastest growing food sector (20% per year compared to 4% in all other food retail sectors).

At all levels of the organic supply chain from soil to plate, stakeholders are working with government to improve regulations and secure export markets. Why? Because that is what industry growth is all about: scaling-up, catapaulting into the “big leagues”, and securing contracts to sell to multi-national corporations and otherwise export the produce off Canadian soils.

Organic + local = sustainable

While this might look like an economic achievement, (and it is!), there remains a different type of organic farmer in Canada – the kind who is philosophically bound to the biodiversity on which she is reliant, the kind who has no intention of “going bigger” or contributing to industry sector growth, but rather intends for more of her local communitarians to share her bounty, to better serve her soils by closing the loops and keeping crop residues on farm or in the region.

Many of the Canadian small scale organic growers are committed to an ideology and a reality that depends on ecological conservation, local capital, equitable prices for their foodstuffs, knowing the consumers of their food and sharing community with them, spending the time to grow, prepare and eat food grown in the soils and climate in which they live, and eating seasonally -- to name just a few tenets of this philosophy.

In his book “Cultivating Utopia”, Hetherington discusses the careful and, at times unstable, ground on which organic farmers in Canada are treading as they seek to create environmental sustainability within the political framework of the structured organic movement, all the while making a living! These ‘organic’ proponents of a thriving local economy are activists – achieving by their livelihood the creation of a foundation for the emergence of a new kind of activist consumer: the locavore.

Locavores disparage the dominant “productionist” economic food system that is increasingly aligned with the corporate mindset, irresponsibly increasing its margins as it decreases biodiversity, soil health, watersheds, human communities and local economies.

Since approximately 2003-2004, food production organizations, NGOs, energy action groups, and those in-the-know have begun campaigning worldwide for activism in our own kitchens, where many of the greatest life-sustaining and life-creating activities are prone to occur! Despite the recent “slow-food movement”, the average time spent annually in the sourcing, procurement, preparation, and consumption of foodstuffs in North American society is decreasing as technologies advance and the average citizen is distanced physically from the food supply chain.

Call to action

Let us call ourselves to action. We can learn more about the locavore movement (see some of the benefits below) and we can practice this consciousness in the food choices we make as growers, retailers, eaters and cooks. Go become a locavore!

Initiated by the 100 mile diet, the movement to source and consume only local foods is one of the newest answers to the food system crisis.

Pros & cons

  • What are the benefits?
    • Fewer food miles (Average is 1500 miles, or 2414 km from field to plate)
    • Taste
    • Knowing exactly what is “in” our food
    • Social benefits of knowing those who grow local food and being socially involved in food culture
    • Trying new native plants and animals (eg. sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, or one of the >200 varieties of apples grown in a single Salt Spring Island orchard)
    • Support local businesses, give back to the local economy (for every dollar spent locally, the total value is twice that of a dollar spent at a supermarket chain because of the additive effect of staying within the local system and being reinvested)
    • Personal health, community health, regional health and so on
    • Less fossil fuel and petroleum usage (upwards of 15 times less than a non-local diet)
    • Learning more about how life works
  • What are the tradeoffs?
    • Having to let go of certain foods we are accustomed to/we desire
    • Spending more time sourcing, growing, preserving and preparing our food (which is actually a benefit if one considers the often hidden costs in terms of stress induced by the ways in which we spend time “working” and other activities in cultures of the developed middle class)
    • At times, the repetition of foods, meals and nutrients in the diet when networking and relationships and help in sourcing seasonal local ingredients are challenging

Alisa Smith and James McKinnon went public with their personal choice to eat foods grown within a 100 mile radius of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For one year we ate only the freshest food that had traveled the shortest possible distances and was eaten or preserved at its seasonal peak. Most of it was organic, and everything we ate was prepared from scratch and nothing came out of a box.

Who wouldn't want to be able to say that? If the locavore movement is not tasty and ethical 'food for thought', I don't know what is.

References and further information

  1. Lang, T and Heasman, M. Food Wars: The Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets. Earthscan, 2004, 365 pp.
  2. eat local challenge
  3. Hetherington, K. Cultivating Utopia: Organic Farmers in a Conventional Landscape. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2005, 117 pp.
  4. About the 100 mile diet


Carol trades seeds with other local farmers at "Seedy Saturday."

Farm Talk

by Carol Wagner, Farm Steward

It has been a busy month it the garden. With the help of three WWOOFers, we have pruned eight fruit trees, built a dozen 4' x 12' raised beds, nearly weeded the entire lavender field, made cold frames, planted seeds in them, moved several slash piles from the neighbors (to be chipped), and cleared the pond of blackberry vines, and made those vines and other yard debris into berms below the lavender field.

This took five people 478 person-hours. Whew!

Is there anything left to be done? You bet! There is a chicken coop and chicken tractors to be built. There is a proposal for fence modifications to move fencing from down by the creek closer, in order to deer fence a large area closer to the house. As soon as the field behind the cottage dries out, we need to dig a trench (to become a seasonal stream) to divert water from the ditch that is emptying into the garden. This will go from the road, perpendicular across the field between the hay field and the buildings and orchard, to drain into a new pond (next to the west orchard) that would be used to irrigate the gardens. There is also the repair of the existing dam.

To say the least, the work is never done!


Ecovillage Economics

by James Cowan, Program Steward

Advisory Council member Elizabeth Buchanan demonstrates one way to bring income into an ecovillage.
This past month, EcoReality has been exploring some options as it seeks to create
  1. guidelines for labour worked on the farm by members and
  2. how to fairly assess members to cover a potential financial shortfall for operational expenses.

Other questions arose when we were looking at a proposal in which hours worked by a member affect how much that member would pay if there was an operational shortfall. Is it wise to create a plan that covers both topics at once? Or are they separate issues that would best be dealt with independently? We're not sure yet.

What we do know is that having a farm and having a co-op takes a lot of time and energy. We are seeking a way that the energy and time that is put in to the co-op is acknowledged and that the member receives some sort of compensation or acknowledgment of having worked required (or more than required) hours. Perhaps compensation can be credited in the form of money, banked labour credit, nominal stipend, etc.

The other issue around operational expenses is equally complex. The co-op will require additional funds in order to pay property taxes in July. Where should the co-op get the money? The only answer we've come up with is from the members. Do all the members contribute equally? One of the co-op's values is to be free from outside debt, yet one or more members loaning the co-op money for operational expenses is an option. [And what about "loaning" the co-op labour? --Editor]

We've learned that these are common topics for ecovillages to work out. Being raised in a society where personal finances and property ownership are a very highly prioritized, self oriented way of life makes it tough to switch gears and think of the community and others in this regard. There is a delicate balance of making choices that are best for the community, are fair for everyone else and work with one's personal situation. It's a good lesson in compassion, understanding, listening and strategizing.

We have asked our Advisory Council for advice, and have looked at what other communities do in these situations - we know that the information gleaned will help us along our way. Yet, the two areas of economic focus in this article are on the rise: labour worked by members on co-op business (but not acknolwedged/compensated) and operational expenses at EcoReality. Finding the best fit for these issues is critical, and from what we've seen in other communities, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. We invite your suggestions and experiences to help us in these matters!


Recent Happenings

Here are some highlights of recent meetings and events. Click any entry for details.

Saturday, 3 March Members Meeting 
WWOOFers' checklist/timesheet put on wiki, maintenance issues, operational assessments, various standing proposals ratified, programs update.
Saturday, 3 March Advisory Council Meeting 
monthly themes idea agreed, themes for rest of year brainstormed.
Special Members Meeting on Assessments 
Advice to be sought from Advisory Council, trial assessment of $300 or 20 hours labour agreed for April, biodiesel brewing worshop planning.

April 2007 Events

For details, please go to the meetings page on our website. All activities are at EcoReality, 160 Sharp Road, Salt Spring Island, unless otherwise noted.

Friday, 13 April 2007, Members Heart-2-Heart Meeting 
Personal posessions, initiative, labour, expenses, outside commitments: we are going through a difficult time in understanding our level of commitment to this fledgling community. What does "sharing" mean to me, and what should be "shared" in community, to what extent?
Saturday, 14 April 2007, Members Meeting 
proposals for labour policy, expenses policy, freezing shares, work exchangers, community space, labour imbalance compensation.
Saturday, 14 April 2007, Advisory Council Meeting 
Saturday, 14 April 2007, Potluck 
After the Advisory Council meeting, we get together for a shared meal. You don't have to come to the meeting to come to the potluck! Can't bring a dish? Call in advance to see if we expect to have extras.
Sunday, 15 April 2007, Biodiesel Brewing Workshop 
informal no-fee workshop in which basic operation of processor is explained, possibly followed by a brew session.
Sunday-Tuesday, 15-17 April, Work party 
Work parties typically start with a farm tour. This month, we'll be working on biodiesel brewing, planting, chipping, mulching, berm construction, more. Wear old clothes! Meals and lodging supplied for workers; non-workers are asked for a nominal fee for meals and lodging, as outlined in our welcome letter.

Thank you for supporting EcoReality with your interest, ideas, and good thoughts!

Want to write for this newsletter? Or want to see something written about? Contact the Communication Steward with your story ideas!

EcoReality Coop (directions)
2152 Fulford-Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Z7, Canada
+1 250.653.2024
Info AT EcoReality DOT org

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