Wednesday, 25 February 2009

No money? try Barter!

The small Interior towns of B.C. are getting clobbered by the economy and by a government that ignores us, except when it makes useless regulations that limit self-sufficiency. Like outlawing small-scale butchering which limits on-farm meat sales.

It will take a lot of ingenuity to keep the villages going. All government attention is on the (expletive deleted) 2010 Winter Olympics that are costing, surprise! more than expected. Isn't it time to give those games a permanent home somewhere and stop beggaring local populations in an endless game of one-upmanship? We digress.

Some good things are happening: people are coming together in unexpected ways to pool resources.

Coming Sunday we are having the fourth monthly community potluck. I missed the first 2 for various reasons, and walked in halfway the third. We'll be there with bells on for the next one.

Consider it an exercise in practical imagination. Much as we all love money, when all is said and done it is only a means of exchange: a way to keep track of promises we make each other.

Our area is rich in natural resources and skills. Lack of money should be no reason to stop exploiting the resources and exchanging the services.

As a way of getting ready for the meeting I am asking the following questions. Fill in your own blanks.

________ will get you through times of no money

better than

money will get you through times of no________

Examples: Libraries. Health. (which includes access to clean water and air, and good food.)

What is your ____ and how can you get it when money is scarce?

I for one am happy to barter my skills as a Reflexologist and my powerful home-grown organic herbal tinctures.

These are interesting times indeed.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Writing on Stone Provincial Park

This amazing place is in the Milk River valley on the border between Alberta and Montana. This part of the river is in Alberta, but the hills in the background are the Sweetgrass Hills, across the line in Montana.
We stumbled on Writing on Stone park for the first time during a short prairie trip in late summer of 1998.
We had been to Waterton National Park. Some of you may know it as the Northern part of Glacier National Park. Grizzly bears don't care that the 49th parallel forms the border between two nations. Many people on both sides don't care much either and cross merrily back and forth, though that changed after you-know-which date. But we digress.
Our destination was the intriguing Cypress Hills on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Seeing a provincial park on the map we decided to take a peek, it was on the way.
As always we choose the road less traveled, the Soutern-most route. It is a dusty lonely road through largely deserted ranchland. Signs of rural decline abound. Originally this was shortgrass prairie. This land is a more intimidating sort of wilderness than the woods and mountains we are used to. In our part of B.C. water is plentiful, and anyone with a few tools would find the raw materials for shelter.
On the bald open prairy water is scarce and there is little shade or shelter from the wind. Travelers get the full blast of whatever Mother Nature wants to dish out. On this late August day that was blazing heat. We had no air conditioning and the car was swelteringly hot.We had left the mountain views behind and were traveling through an almost empty landscape on a road that was barely on the map, roughly skirting the river and the border. This picture was taken elsewhere in the Palliser region on a later trip, but it gives a good idea.
Finally we came to the town of Milk River and from there we could see, to our surprise, the far silhouette of a mountain. We didn't know of any ranges between the Rockies and the ancient Cypress Hills.
The Sweetgrass Hills are just across the border in Montana and liven up the skyline for a huge portion of Southern Alberta.
We got to Writing on Stone around 2 PM, and found an oasis of sweet cool shade among huge cottonwood trees. That was it, we were done traveling for the day! There was even a nice sandy beach where local people came to swim, or rather frolick, in the lukewarm river. Chris stayed in the shade by the tent while I had a blast playing in the current. Alas, I was recovering from a broken ankle that year and couldn't take part in the guided tour of the petroglyphs. We did take a short self-guided tour.
What I most remember is the berries. I am pretty sure they are Buffalo Berries, but I am not sure. They grow on thorny silvery bushes, taste tart, and give you an amazing uplift that goes far beyond a bit of quenched thirst. I wondered if they are Canada's version of the Goji berry.
You don't have to be a medium to feel the spirits of those who lived here in this sacred place.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Growing up Locavore in the Fifties

In case the word doesn't explain itself, a Locavore is someone who tries to eat locally.

It makes perfect sense for many so reasons. As good old semi-hippies we have been onto this one for a long time, but it sure is nice to see the idea go mainstream. There is hope for this world yet!

I just read ''Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", by Barbara Kingsolver, who is one of my all-time favorite writers. The book describes Barbara's move to the farm in Virginia and the family's efforts to live more or less strictly on local food for the year. They grow a lot of their own.

This was sent to the website, http://

Growing Up Locavore in the Fifties

During my childhood in post-war Holland eating with the seasons was still the normal way of life.

I'd say produce was 90% local. There was a band of market gardens, many with greenhouses, surrounding Amsterdam. They got paved over when the city expanded in the mid fifties.

Shopping for bread, milk and produce was done daily, at specialized stores or by home delivery. Most people did not own a fridge or a car and there were no supermarkets. Mothers were at home, whether they enjoyed it or not. Mine didn't, but that is a whole other topic.

Winter was the time for fat winter carrots, Brussel's sprouts, witloof, various cabbages, leeks, onions, endive, and kale. Sourkraut, liberally spiced with juniper berries, was scooped up fresh from the vat at the greengrocer's.

Vegetables like fresh lettuce, cauliflower, green beans, broad beans, had to wait for spring and summer.
First would come the more expensive greenhouse crop, which my frugal mother might serve on a Sunday, but certainly not during the week. A few weeks later we would come to the main season, when green snap beans or cauliflower would be available "van de kouwe grond", literally "from the cold ground".

I didn't mention potatoes, because they went without saying. If you asked mother what was for dinner, the answer would be the vegetable of that day. Potatoes with jus, made with the Sunday meat and stretched with Blue Band margarine (yuck, in retrospect) to last all week, were always on the table. Protein was meat only on Sunday.

On weekdays the protein might be an egg, or a slice of blood sausage, a tiny piece of smoked sausage, or fish, or it might be missing altogether. We got plenty of cheese at other meals and were in no danger of kwashiorkor.

Delicacies like strawberries, raspberries, cherries and red currants were all available for a brief but much prized season only. My birthday is in July. Never mind cake, the special treat was always a tall glass with various soft red fruits layered with vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream.

Broccoli, zucchini and green peppers were still unknown, garlic frowned upon and generally disliked. I remember my grandparents returning from a bus tour to Austria with a bunch of garlicky sausage. It was declared to be inedible.

During the sixties the place became more cosmopolitan. These days Dutch supermarkets have the usual assortment of everything, from everywhere, all the time.

However, when I became a gardener in Canada I went back to eating with the seasons, because it just makes sense!

One of my favorite crops is KALE. It gives us the first tender greens in spring, the last fresh food in fall, and its abundance feeds chickens as well.

I was incredibly proud when a Vancouver food writer described my garden as "the mother of all kale gardens".