Monday, May 24, 2010

Clean Food, Organic Agriculture (2005)

I just watched this 28 min. movie produced by Films for the Humanities Production. I took a few movies from the school's library which were found under 'organic agriculture'. What I decided to post here are just a few of the points brought up in film that I find interesting... (I also watched The Future of Food -2004- and One Man, One Cow, One Planet -2007- of which I won't go into here, I welcome you to watch it though)

For example, some guy interviewed (ooh! that's bad quotation!) said that organic farming was partly created to bring transparency to the agricultural system. Although I had never formulated this thought, I feel comfortable with it... What do you think? Is it reasonable to affirm this? In my personal experience, the event of organic agriculture has certainly brought about a lot of discussions on origins and opening up to where food came from. But was that because it's organic, or was it a mandate a lot of organic producers believed in? The conventional animal farm at the school is certainly very open about its process... Was it just not reaching me before I found an interest in it?

Also, maybe the same guy, or another (!) brought up how choosing to buy organics meant that one had a real impact on preserving life. This point was expressed by Vandana Shiva (I knew of her, so it was easier to remember) as a "moral obligation to be a co-producer of a sustainable, healthy, just, peaceful economy of food". Her choice of words resonate with me. She also added "the moment we are choosing the food we eat, we are supporting the production system". But that ain't just about food... Knowing what's behind our buck is a full time leisure activity. I would like to be more coherent in my spending... But the I fear the consequences... No computer (programs made to last only a certain period of time)... No cell phone (war in Congo)... Already, I don't have to go very far in my research that all of my daily time table in put into question. Anyways, I put that aside for now, but comments are welcome.

The original owner of Stoney Fields (organic yogurt company) had another moral obligation to point out. His company was bought up by Danone (giant yogurt company), yet he said he remained independent after the deal in his decision making. And in that sense, he said small organic companies had the moral obligation to show the way to giant companies. This mandate would foster an 'aggressive commitment' from these big companies, which would 'change the world'. Somehow, I feel uncomfortable with that. 'Big' means a lot of money and profit... To achieve this it seems to me like a lot of travelling needs to be done (for example). All this is done because people live in cities and have an urban lifestyle... I think a more fundamental shift is needed. What do you think? (notice how I'd like comments on this page?)

Vandana Shiva enumerated '3 Big Myths' of the 'vicious industrialized, globalized agriculture':
  1. Industrial and chemical agriculture (including GMO) produces more food. 
  2. Globalized agriculture is based on competition
  3. It is self-generating surpluses
In response she argued that often times organic agriculture produces more food (she said 10x to 100x more... I'm surprised and not surprised. I would think that in developing countries that can be the case for conventional soils, which would tolerate less droughts than say, an organic one). She also pointed that the world of agribusiness corporations  (controlling inputs, distribution and consumer prices) was under the tyranny -that's my word!- 5 giant companies (she didn't name them but I just typed agribusiness corporations on Ecosia -instead of google- and found out about other companies than Monsanto... Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill (wow! so much to learn about these companies too! I encourage you to go read about them). It reminds me about this video I saw recently Monsanto Blocade or this one Monsanto, the genetic conspiracy. This is partly why I decided to buy seeds from small organic seed companies that I knew: Tourne-sol Coop, La Val'heureuse and Salt Spring Seeds. And finally, coming back to the third point, Vandana Shiva argues that the companies created an export paradigm, where only the trading agribusiness are making a profit... Now that is true for the USA as a whole (although they are considered the world export leaders by the Federation of International Trade Association) but not for Canada in terms of their goods (in $). More reading is needed to continue this topic and comments are welcome!

The disconnection between what we eat and how it is grown, is partly why we created this garden. Getting educated though practice.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gardening at the Community Garden

The plot with a G-shaped path has been named Lady Bug in the honor of this beneficial insect, natural predator of the aphids. We thought this shape of path would maximize space on our plot. We created raised beds in this quite weedy plot to insure good drainage an early start for the seedlings... It has been so warm lately, that may have been a bad move for this season. It has been direct seeded May 18th with a few varieties of leafy greens (cress, buttercrunch) and sweet peas. We also transplanted basil quite close together to avoid weeding... we are going to see in the season if basil plants would of like more space or if this spacing helped them thrive. A few May Queen (lettuce) was donated to us by a fellow gardener (Branislav, thanks!). They seemed shocked today! It was quite warm. We watered several times to insure good infiltration.
The plot with a U-shaped path was named after an american (continent) bird, the Purple Martin. This bird feeds off flying insects... (see and so was considered an interesting predator to welcome in our gardens (but they do like bees... a good balance is what we are looking for). This plot was direct seeded with carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, parsnip and radish on May 18th.

Meditation/Medicinal Herbs/Permaculture Garden

Sharing with you our latest attempt at designing the area west of the community garden, where we are planning to implant a garden meant for meditation and gatherings for workshops and activities. One of the activities I was excited to start is happening this Thursday, full moon, may 27th at 7am. For about an hour I will guide participants through a series of exercises of yoga, chi kung and simple dance exercises, according to my own experience and practice. I will lead these morning gatherings every Thursday until June 17th.

We will keep on working on the design of the garden. Comments and critiques are welcome! We already have a few reservations ourselves. For example, the amount of work a rounded raised-bed figure would ask for is most probably considerable. Also the cost of materials... Which makes me think of hexagons! I was just reading this excellent comic book on honey bees, called Clan Apis by Jay Hosler, and it described how the cells in a comb are of hexagon shape for the most efficient use of space... But then again, I don't think we want a filled up space, but an efficient use of our materials. To be continued...

Here's a portion of the Mary H. Brown fund application that we submitted concerning the meditation garden... which is now called the permaculture garden to promote the practice of peri-urban permaculture:

Part of the Project is centered on creating an outdoor space where students and the community in general can peacefully enjoy ways of living with the land. An opportunity to slow down from a busy schedule and contemplate life as it unfolds in a garden designed specifically for meditation and medicinal plant cultivation. It is now an established notion that chronic stress is more a cause of depression than acute stress (McGonagle, 1990). In response, meditation and mindfulness techniques have been used successfully to alleviate chronic pains (Rosenzweig, 2010). Gardening has also made its noble letters at the Douglas Hospital in contributing to mental health. Designed with permaculture principles, the garden will be visually pleasing, key words being “curves” and “simple”, and will use organic and biodynamic practices to ensure proper growth and pest management. Raised beds will ensure the accessibility of the aging population. Activities will foster engaging human relations (Wills, 2009), body and breath awareness as well as gardening skills related to medicinal plants, planning, design and mushroom cultivation.

   1) First and foremost the Meditation Garden will improve access to a quiet and intimate outdoor space where one may simply sit and enjoy the calmness around and observe within. Regular group led activities of yoga, tai chi and dance will coherently support meditation practices by focusing on learning how to take care of our mental health through movement and sitting meditation.

   2) Consequently, MSEG’s influence is with education and outreach. The Meditation Garden will act as a demonstration of permaculture on the McGill, Macdonald campus. It will also provide opportunities for research into methods of sustainable horticulture, experimental and hands-on learning, while connecting academic knowledge with the environment and local community. The garden will be available for use as an eco-teaching tool for courses at the University. Support from university professors already exists and can be integrated into the projects plans, along with potential research topics. By reaching out to students and professors from different disciplines and the community, MSEG will aim to create awareness about native and non-native medicinal plants and mushrooms. Honours thesis and independent project research on medicinal plants and mushrooms, supervised by professors, are amongst the examples of student independent research projects suggested on last year’s Student run Eco Garden.

   3) The sharing of knowledge through workshops, lectures and meetings, as well as the organization of volunteer and tour groups from both the downtown and Macdonald campuses, and also the local community, is a vital part of the project’s intention. Experience has shown that by directly exposing students to the issues surrounding their health  nourishes a much greater understanding of the natural resources which provide it, and also the holistic aspect of agriculture. 

In the future the MSEG will coordinate activities with the Macdonald Food Systems Project (MFSP) to provide herbal teas and mushrooms produced by students from the Meditation Garden.

Last Wednesday I went to an information session created for the interns at Carya and Zephir farms. Graham Calder was there to present the basic underlying principles of permaculture. He aslo spoke of his Urban Permaculture Design Course happening this summer (see which seemed quite interesting. Hopefully some of our members will go and come back to share the good news! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Community Garden Plots

These are the four plots we are going to be using at the community garden this summer. We spent some time hand weeding (shoveling really) and incorporated whatever we found sound to. A lot of earthworm activity!
Earthworms, the agriculturist's friends
This picture was taken at 4 pm, so we can fairly assume a good part of the day, 2 of our plots are going to have shade from the tree west of the plots. We will take this into consideration when planning our crops' spacing.

The Meditation Garden - Before & ...

The meditation garden will be designed around the four young fruit trees west of the community garden. We are planning a design over an area of 35 feet by 75 feet, which will include raised beds with medicinal herbs and flowers, mushroom cultivation with wood plug spawn (under the coniferous tree in the background of the picture), curved paths and various forms of benches.

Tuesday May 11th -Working on a the greenhouse

Last week the Sustainability Fund comity got together and selected our project as one with potential... Here you see Katryna, Emily and Kourosh working on a response to their comments, to be handed back to the comity before tomorrow, when they meet again. From this meeting tomorrow, we should be able to know what kind of funding is available for the MSEG. One of the point we want to get across to them before they take their decision is that we want to make this garden financially sustainable with sound budgeting and a deep economist vision. We want to use the words "environment" and "economy" together, not as opposites, but as complements. In his book Deep Economy, Caring for Ecology, Humanity and Religion (2001), Hans Dirk van Hoogstraten suggests the use of a new term "deep economy", analogous to "deep ecology" : "Deep economy is not just a play on words-it is the area that we must address to find the root causes and final solutions to our present ecological crisis. We must examine human motives, influences, and manipulation both on a surface level and on a deep level. Economy is inextricably linked to modern environmental problems. Many environmental ethicists believe that the economic actions are the fundamental agent in environmental problems and warn that profound changes in economic thinking and acting must be made."