Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Getting REALLY close to the source of my food

This past weekend was a bit surreal - in the midst of the hard work, the puzzling over 'what next' and the buzz of people around us offering their help - I would pause and almost burst out laughing, astonished at where I was and what I was doing.  

I grew up on a mixed farm and was around when we would butcher a cow, seeing only parts of the process and really only ever helping out with the meat wrapping inside our house.  This weekend I witnessed and helped out in (almost) the whole process of butchering a steer.  I wasn't there when it was killed but arrived soon after, with my Dad who was willing to coach us through the skinning and cleaning of the carcass.  

It was V's first time doing this as well and his first step in his venture of raising and providing baby beef to local consumers, the local consumers at this time being his family.  The idea of baby beef is that the calf is born in the spring, butchered in the summer and lives a life rich in grass and milk: no need for grains or supplements to bulk it up or get it through the winter.  It is natural, young beef - lean and tender.  Key to this is also that it lives a no-stress life: no feedlots, no getting on trailers and being shipped to auction or even to a slaughter house.  It is born, lives and dies all on the native prairies grass.  

We let the carcass hang over night and then the next day began the process of cutting and wrapping.  With a little help from a couple of V's family members (whom I don't think had actually ever done this before, either) and a book - as well as a couple calls to my parents - we began.  When the suggestion was made (around 4pm) that we could some of it today and the rest tomorrow, my face showed my opinion clearly: "no way!"  It wasn't bad work - but it was not something I wanted to drag into a 3 day process.  Although when I heard the concern in my Mom's voice when I said we were about a quarter done (after working for a couple hours) I thought we may need to call them in as reinforcements.  Luckily - V's Dad had the same idea, he made a call to a local neighbour who hunts a lot and in a couple hours later we had we being guided by the 'pros':  4 gents in camouflage arrived to help out, they'd been delayed because they had to finish gutting out the deer they had shot earlier.  

With their help - we finished up around 10 and by midnight (after all the cleaning was done) fell into bed, exhausted but feeling fulfilled and accomplished.  All that remained to do was grind the hamburger (which you do later, after it has frozen a bit) and to divide out the packages among the family.

Now some of you would know me as a fairly strict vegetarian but that was driven by the mistrust I felt for the food I was finding in the grocery stores and restaurants, in our mainstream way of raising and growing food.  And for that time in my life and with what was around me - being vegetarian and sticking to a label that was a bit more black/white made it easier for me to make choices and to also communicate to other my choices.  In reality - it was never was that black/white.  So I am embracing the grey as a beautiful shade to paint with and am finding out that most people 'get it' and accept it.  At least the people who matter to me and that I am around a lot.  

So this is where my food journey has taken me - I have learned about the delights of local food in Italy, have been an avid label reader and discerning shopper in the Netherlands, have sung the praises of the organic veg and fruit I could get delivered to my doorstep in Singapore, have sampled local delights like fresh caught and grilled fish in Laos, and now I am getting even closer to my food in Canada:  working my way to become producer as well as consumer and enjoying the sense of fulfilment it brings to me and to those around me.  

As an aside note: I really didn't know if I would be able to handle doing this... but wasn't really turned off during the process.  Yet I still gag when it comes to taking out the compost or feeding the chickens scraps... I can't figure that out.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Land Institute and searching for Wes Jackson

For about a week at the end of October, V. and I took at road trip through the midwest of the USA (Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana).  There were several highlights of the trip with one of them being a stopover in Salina, Kansas and visiting the Land Institute.
I guess I heard about Wes Jackson and the Land Institute sometime about 2 years ago with their work and ideas become more exciting to me the closer to the Prairie land I get.  They are working to develop an agricultural system that builds the ecological resilience of the prairie while providing a grain yield comparable to the current annual crops that are grown across the North America prairies - at the expense of the ecosystems.  
We weren't sure when we'd arrive so didn't get a chance to book a guided tour however the Institute is open access for people to walk around and guide themselves.  I did ring the doorbell of the main building to let them know we were there... and with the hopes that Wes Jackson would answer the door.  :)  He didn't...  but that didn't stop me from peering at every person I saw on site to see if it might be him.  The pictures below are some highlights.  Added now to my list of things to do before I am 40:  attend the Land Institute's annual Prairie Festival.
(Photos from the whole trip can be viewed here.)

The original Land Institute
The new Land Institute

NOT Wes Jackson :(... but a really friendly fellow

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting into the Flow with Waterlution and the Lab 2010

I'm catching up on my blogging here - I'm almost a month 'behind' in getting this out which tells you a lot about the last month.   Rich in experience and only now taking the time to write out reflections or share the adventures.

The 18th-24th October gave me the chance to bring together the content of my Master's programme and thesis with the experience I've had in hosting and facilitation.  
The Canadian Water Innovation Lab 2010, an 'unconference' hosted by Waterlution started with about 40 of us gathering together at the Banff Centre for the Arts to build our hosting skills and to connect as the team that would then be a platform for the 180 others we would meet up with at Camp Chief Hector.  This Pre-Lab allowed to enjoy being a participant and to reconnect to the kind of process and hosting work that I had been doing 'pre-MSc.'  It was a good way to settle back into this role and to 'dust off' some of the skills that I had left a bit on the side shelf while working on my masters.  It allowed me to observe where I want to be engaged and also what I am comfortable with letting others take on.

Then there was the Lab itself.  The article below (from the East Central Alberta Review, 11 November) and the videos that can be found on the Waterlution site (I would say start with Part 5 & 6) can give you more details on it.  From a reflection point of view I am left with two key points:
- how important the process is: the process of connecting with others, exploring together and co-evolving into our new ways of being.  Many of the participants were experts in their field of water but the main challenge has been the engagement with others, the communication flow and the (lack of?) deep dialogue
- how much I have learned about food, agriculture and the Alberta context:  felt good to get feedback and response to the thoughts that have been crammed into my head and on to paper through the process of my thesis

It was an amazing experience to step into right out of the Master's - a uniting of my work (content and process)  and a connecting to so many more amazing individuals from this land (and waters :) ) 
Click to enlarge