Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What will I be when I grow up?

Yesterday I was pondering (again) the journey I have taken - going so far away (physically, emotionally, intellectually) to find myself here in small town Alberta wanting to make a life here.  It is weird and perfectly normal all in the same moment.  I got home to find this lovely poem in my inbox, written by Ben Hanbury - one of my MSc classmates and I asked him if I could share it.  Thank you Ben for finding words for what many of us likely feel:

What will I be when I grow up? - Ben Hanbury

After a lifetime of riding ocean swells, chasing storms, running from a little boy's pain of growing up, I find I am back where I started
In my bedroom

After a lifetime of questioning deeply, searching for meaning and going beyond. I find myself once again back at the beginning
Did I ever leave?

After a lifetime of searching for identity, belonging, a sense of worth
I find that these things come and go like the seasons

One moment I am a tree, roots planted firmly in the earth
The next I am a leaf blowing in the wind
When will I arrive?

I have no-thing to offer, but I have so much to give

I long for the certainty I once had
The devotion to the ocean

Everything has changed but something is the same

What is this new ocean of devotion?

Sometimes I am like a well, that will quench the thirst of those who come to drink. But for those who don't realise the nature of their thirst
I am invisible, a pale shadow of myself

When the Buddha knelt by the stream and let go of his bowl it floated upstream
This was a sign that awakening is possible

When I let go of my life sometimes it floats upstream into wholeness
Other times I get washed downstream and fall over a waterfall

I can find no refuge in the mundane world of the old paradigm
the world of becoming someone

I never want to become someone
I pray however to always be someone becoming

Friday, December 10, 2010

The process or the parts?: Wild relatives of common foods and how they are a part of the future of food

I just read this article in the Globe and Mail with great interest:  "Wild relatives of common crops may hold key to future of food" (From Friday 10 December edition).  I was intrigued and heartened to see this topic being address in one of Canada's national newspapers.  Realising that we have bred out the resilience out of our food crops and that the challenges posed by a changing climate are not likely to be survived by our current, domesticated forms - The Global Crop Diversity Trust is seeking out the native, wild ancestors of our common food crops.

“All our crops were originally developed from wild species,” Dr. Fowler said. “We need to go back to the wild to find those relatives of our crops that can thrive in the climates of the future. And we need to do it while those plants can still be found.”

I applaud this recognition and effort - but, for two reasons, I question the next step: the sealing away the seeds of these plants in a vault or even keeping them growing in a few, elite labs around the world.  

As I wrote in my thesis ("Home Coming: An exercise in belonging by exploring ecological resilience and the farming communities of east-central Alberta"), I believe that keeping the seeds active, growing and in relationship with today's climate and environment will better serve tomorrow's growing conditions.  The seeds, the land, the climate and the people need to coevolve together and not develop separately.  Yes we need to capture and preserve the biodiversity that brought us this far and we need to nurture it into the future.

From page 48-49 of my thesis:

The word that I have found myself using to capture what it means to enter in and work with the processes and patterns that are present is to coevolve.  To grow together and through that growing together to create a real belonging.  Let me give an example that helped me understand this concept better.  

The importance of biodiversity seems to be gaining in understanding and recognition such that 2010 has been named the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity and over the last few years more projects have been initiated around seed banks and seed saving.  One of the biggest projects is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault based in Norway that seals dehydrated seeds into airtight containers and freezes them nearly 400 feet down in the Norwegian mountainside.  This vault can store around 4.5 million seeds and scientists from around the world are part of retrieving seeds destined for this ‘back up’ supply. Considering the extent of biodiversity loss that current ‘development’ is bringing along with it and the environmental chaos that is predicted to come along with climate change, it seems like a pretty good idea to be saving a diverse range of healthy seeds that we can rely on in the decades to come.  However as I start to consider how adaptation and change happens through the interplay of processes and components that make up a system, I begin to doubt the overall reliance and faith that seems to be given to the ideas of banks and vaults where seeds are being locked up.  Seeds are a part of life and the process of adaptation - shouldn’t our focus be on growing and keeping alive more seeds, and more diverse types of seeds?  If the environment and conditions are changing, shouldn’t we be allowing the seeds to coevolve with the environment and allow them to change with it?  I believe this is the method that Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organisation works.  They work through a network of local seed banks across India where seeds are grown and nurtured under diverse growing conditions.  The seeds are catalogued and conserved for their growing properties, some kept and some kept into production for the next year.  It is an approach to seed saving that stays within the dynamics of life, an approach where the seed, the environment, the farmers and the communities continue to change and develop together. 

The growing needs to happen in various locations, in a decentralised, democratic manner.  A few scientists growing these varieties in a few research stations around the globe means that when these seeds are needed - we will be at a point vulnerable to a power struggle in terms of who owns the seeds and who decides when they are used.  And by the time that decision is made or power struggle won, it is likely that the people most in need of the seeds will be at such an emergency point that their concerns will be beyond growing food.  The challenges we face as a global community are great enough - we don't need to create another set of resource wars and famines because we were too centralised with our seed supply.

If this makes sense to you - you may want to read more about Earth Democracy:
10 Principles of Earth Democracy - click here
Earth Democracy and Navdanya - click here 
and to look into the work of the Land Institute in Kansas - click here

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Prairie Grassroots Activists

Last week we went to the two day Western Canadian Grazing Conference held in Vermilion, Alberta.  I am used to attending a conference or 5 a year and this was not much different in format:  name tags, keynote speakers, workshop sessions presented by experts equipped with slides, networking over lunch and in the coffee breaks, trade fair of the sponsors wanting to tell you more about their product or organisation.  What made this different was the topics and the slides - very little mention of the words "strategic" or "framework" or any other corporate/academic buzzwords.  And the slides were of big horizons, deep rooted grasses, healthy animals with the odd number thrown in.  And of course - each of them introduced us to their wives, husbands, children, family. 

These are the GRASSROOTS activists who are focussed on working with nature - the prairie ecosystems that they are a part of.  They are seeking ways to live sustainably - environmentally, economically, socially - and to repair the damage that has been done by the learning curve we have been going through in becoming part of this land.  I was impressed by the approach I heard multiple times: I don't listen to what people tell me can or can't do - I find out myself what will work for me, on my place.  That's the spirit of the independent scientist that we've lost in many parts of our lives.  Wisdom and motivation was passed on as we listened to talks about sheep and cow bonding; diversity of the grasses and health of the soil being the key to raising animals; and in questioning the profit-motive that assumes more production leads to more profit - flipping the thought and putting forth "What level should I produce to make a profit?" and finding that balance as the conditions change.  And these men and women were all here - living in the Canadian Prairies - they aren't coming in from other countries telling us what they do 'over there' - they are here, they are the activists that are taking care of OUR grassroots.

It was excellent to hear Dr. Sauchyn speak about the impacts of climate change on the Prairies; Wendy Holm addressing the crisis that farming is facing while bringing a sense of possibility and change; and Don Campbell who mixed perfectly the philosophic and the practical showing us the grass he's grown and the land he's restored on his own family farm.

As a backdrop to part of his presentation - Don projected this poem up behind him.  It summed up and spoke to the best of presentations and conversations from those two days.

I am the basis of all wealth, the heritage of the wise, the thrifty and the prudent.

I am the poor person's joy and comfort, the rich person's prize, the right hand of capital, the silent partner of thousands of successful people.

I am the solace of the widow, the comfort of old age, the cornerstone of security against misfortune and want. I am handed down through generations as a possession of great value.

I am the choicest fruit of labour, the safest collateral and yet I am humble. I stand before every person bidding them to know me for what I am and asking them to possess me.

I am quietly growing in value through countless days. Though I might seem dormant, my worth increases, never failing, never ceasing. Time is my aid and the ever increasing population adds to my gain. I defy fire and the elements, for they cannot destroy me.

My possessors learn to believe in me and invariably they become envied by those who have passed me by. While all other things wither and decay, I alone survive. The centuries find me younger, always increasing in strength.

All oil and minerals come from me. I am the producer of food, building materials and the home to every living thing. I serve as the foundation for homes, factories, banks and stores.

I have not been produced for millions of years, yet I am so common that thousands, unthinking and unknowingly, pass me by.

Who am I?

I am land