Growing Companions – A great infographic on plants to plant together


Are vegetables and fruit important to good health?


In Wayne Robert’s recent interview on CTV he mentioned that

…there is no food strategy in Canada.  We have lots of strategies for transportation and energy, but we have no strategy that’s coherent and links “what do we grow” to “what do we eat.

For instance, everyone knows that the cornerstone of a healthy diet is fruits and vegetables and yet there are probably less than five percent of the farms in Canada which produce fruit and vegetables…

Wayne brings up an interesting point.  I was interested to see what the situation is like here in Ottawa.   That can’t possibly be true with all of our local farms, CSA and farmer markets… can it?

Let’s google up some StatCan statistics:

Well, there are the facts from four years ago.   I will be interested to see how our local story has changed once the 2011 Census of Agriculture has been published.

Looks like it doesn’t pay to be growing healthy human food either… Proportion of gross farm receipts by farm type for Ottawa-Gatineau’s Fruit & Veg producers was WAYYY below the average for similar producers in Ontario and Quebec.

Food Politics


If you and I disagree over the wisdom of eating junk food, that is not food politics.  If you and your allies organize and take political action to impose (or block) new government regulations on junk food — for example, keeping certain junk foods out of school cafeterias  — that is food politics.

No matter what your political leaning, there are likely some statements in this book that you will agree with, and there are likely some statements in this book that will ruffle your feathers.

Paarlberg applies a matter-of-fact mindset to answer questions like “Is chronic undernutrition a problem in the United States” and “Are genetically engineered foods safe?”. Most answers are given in four pages or less.

Parts of the book reminded me of Freakonomics (eg. America’s health crisis is linked far more to overnutrition than undernutrition) and other parts of the book rubbed me the wrong way although I did continue reading.

At the start it was a bit to heavy on US Food politics but some portions were interesting:

If [the] important Food Stamp program had been given a more accurate name — “an income supplement and insurance program for the poor” — it would enjoy far less political support in Congress.  It gains strong bipartisan support because of its brand as a program against hunger.   It also enjoys broad political support because it is routinely bundled into the same legislative package that delivers subsidies to farmers, the so-called farm bill, ensuring that representatives from agricultural districts will vote for food stamps in return for urban votes to preserve farm subsidies. (p.42)

It would be interesting to figure out the Canadian versions of some of the facts.  Like how, on one recent year, the largest 7% of American Farms received 45% of American agricultural subsidies.   In Europe, the wealthiest 20% of farmers receive more than 80% of the subsidies.

I don’t know about you, but you REALLY have to wonder why such huge portions of the subsidies are given to the wealthiest farms.

This has got me interested in digging up the Canadian numbers …  (oh dear internet, you make this almost too easy.  No wonder so many governments censor you!).

The orange represent Program Payments (an endearing term for subsidies?) on this chart from Agriculture Canada.   Like the US and Europe, it seems to me that the most profitable farms are receiving the lions share of the subsidies.I want hard working farm families to be profitable.  I want them to make a good living. But do I feel that our government should be paying the wealthiest farmers the most money?!?  No matter what the justification I feel it’s a bit odd.  You almost have to wonder if the subsidies are just temporarily extending the life of expensive farm operations, or if they are simply making wealthy farm families more wealthy.

The welfare of food producers and food consumers usually depends more on what governments do inside the border than on what they do with their trade policy at the border.  Arguments between open trade advocates and trade protectionists too often miss this point (p.109)

Two other take-aways from this book:

Most poor farmers in Africa do not make any purchases of seeds at all, and they make minimum purchases of fertilizers and pesticides… Private international companies are not significantly interested in African farmers because they lack the purchasing power to be good customers. (p 123)

Note that too much food is now six times deadlier than unsafe food.  Yet any illness from foods found already contaminated at purchase will cause public outrage because (in contrast to smoking or overeating) this kind of exposure to risk is involuntary.  Also, because purchasing food at a supermarket is a commmon experience, anxieties can spread quickly to vast numbers of citizens when any danger…is confirmed or even rumored. (p.157)

What’s Mine is Yours


The authors of this book feel we are slowly coming out of a “consumer trance” as a growing number of people (and businesses, and governments) begin to realize that infinite growth based on finite resources is not a viable combination.

Many of us are also begining to realize that working more (or longer) so you can buy a boat is less appealing than working less (or shorter hours) and sharing a boat with your neighbours.

The great error of our nature is not to know where to stop; not to be satisfied with any reasonable requirement … but to lose all we have gained by an insatiable pursuit of more.
– Edward Burke, Irish statesman 1757

The book introduced me to the IfWeRanTheWorld platform which is sort of interesting for organizing ideas, though I like the ability to rank ideas by popularity…  Get Satisfaction seems to do this well.

There’s a great example on pages 81 & 82 on how messaging can affect behaviour.  Arizona State students researchers measured how often hotel guests would re-use towels based on the messaging on the cards which were left in each washroom.   They tested common pleas like “Do it for the environment”, “Help save resources for future generations”, “Partner with us to help save the environment”, etc… With a 16% participation rate, “Help the hotel save energy” was the least effective.   The most effective message had close to a 75% participation rate:  “Join fellow guests in helping save the environment”.  Looks like peer-influenced messaging is sometimes the best way to go!

The final message from the book that I hope will stick with me is this:
We think nothing of paying a good amount of money for a hotel room where we sleep in a bed that hundreds (if not thousands) of others have slept, using towels that hundreds (if not thousands) of others have used.  However, sharing a vacuum cleaner with a single neighbour is not even close to being common practice.

The Value of Nothing


Just read The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel, and wanted to record some quotes before I forget them.

In the words of Herman Daily, one of the pioneers of ecological economics, “Current economic growth has uncoupled itself from the world and has become a blind guide”.  In short, the economy takes a great deal for granted, for free, and is constitutionally unable to pay for it. (page 20)

The book talks about British economist John Maynard Keynes and some of his comments/findings:

Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view.  It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. (page 71)

Also interesting:

Defense spending is increasing among a range of more and less democratically elected governments around the world (though none at the scale of the United States, which spends almost half the planet’s total)… When the biggest crisis facing the planet require education, training, health care and investment in sustainable energy and agriculture, governments are piling record sums into guns, not butter. (page 79)


In .. Fight Club, the first and second rules are that you don’t talk about Fight Club. The cardinal rule of genuine democracy is that you have to talk about it.  It needs meetings at which people can shape the terms on which value is set.  Participating in these meetings isn’t something you learn in school. (page 187)

Grazing Days – Grass Fed Beef in Ottawa!


PS - The man, the machine. Meet Farmer Paul.    This man is a machine and he’s a true farmer in every sense of the word.

I’ve just heard that there are a few spots left in his Ottawa area Grass Fed Angus Beef to-your-door delivery service (following a CSA model) — a rare opportunity for any of you looking for local, grass-fed beef CSAs this season.

Get in on the action while you can:

NCC survey of Ottawa’s Urban Lands


Importance of Natural Areas in my Community

Hey everybody, The National Capital Commission (NCC) is currently looking for comments to “improve the directions of the master plan and better reflect the interests of the public”

Survey ends September 20, 2010.

Until then you can add your input here:

Greening Lansdowne Park by Paving Greenbelt Forest.


Greening Lansdowne Park by Paving Greenbelt Forests.

Next Wednesday, September 1st 2010 the City’s Committee of Adjustment will be considering an application for a “Minor Variance” that would allow more than 28 acres of existing forest in the Greenbelt to be destroyed and replaced with a 2,000 car parking lot and Exhibition Hall.

Our city has already accepted a proposal from the Shenkman Corporation to build a 220,000 square foot exhibition hall and massive parking along Uplands Drive near the airport (Link to the June 1st report here).   From the report:

“The construction of a new Exposition Hall Facility, as proposed by Shenkman, will not only solve the problem of lack of contiguous exposition hall space that has significantly limited the ability of the trade and consumer show industry to grow in Ottawa, but will also allow the City to pursue its ‘greening” objectives for Lansdowne Park”

Lansdowne Park currently has a total of 96,400 square feet of exhibition space and since most of it will be replace with shopping, hotels and condos this Exhibition Hall project seems to be packaged in with Lansdowne’s Partnership Plan.

While I understand that the NCC has marked the proposed area for development, after touring the proposed building site you can’t help but wonder why the Exhibition Hall needs to be built in an existing forest when there is acre upon acre of manicured green lawn just across the road.

Construction is due to be completed by December 2011.  So while our attempts to Green Lansdowne may be just, it is somewhat ironic that constructing a 2,000 car parking lot in the existing forests of our greenbelt.

p.s. Other Contacts:

City of Ottawa’s Lead Planner for the Exposition Hall Facility Project:

Simon M. Deiaco, MCIP RPP
City of Ottawa
Planner II
Infrastructure Services and Community Sustainability
Planning and Growth Management Branch
t: (613) 580-2424 Ext. 15641
f: (613) 560-6006

UPDATE #1: It looks like Spacing Ottawa has picked up on the story and is getting some good comments!

UPDATE #2: Metro Ottawa has picked up the story as well.  (Thank you Tim!)

Loblaws at COG’s 2010 Feast of Fields


Some commentary on an article in Ottawa Magazine that has to do with Loblaw’s sponsorship of this years Feast of the Fields event in Ottawa, Ontario:

It is always difficult to see a brand you hold near and dear go mainstream and that seems to be what’s happening with the Feast of Fields.

Participants like the Red Apron and the farms they have paired with have invested FAR MORE than “(a measly) $5,000″ to build up the Feast of Fields brand. Over the past few years the participants HAVE INVESTED HEAVILY in money and in kind by volunteering staff, energy, advertisements and food in order to make the Feast such a popular event.

After investing so heavily in the brand, it is no surprise that many feel COG have misstepped by involving Canada’s largest food distributor (and a leading provider of drugstore and financial products) to be the “Presenting Sponsor” by doing NO work and contributing 0.00076% of their annual profits.

Math: $5,000 divided by $656 Million (Loblaws Corp. net profit in 2009)

While the argument is focused a bit around ‘costs’ I think it also has something to do with ‘fairness’.  I mean,  I have to spend $50 to attend the event.   That’s about 0.1 % of an average annual $50k income for a single guy in my neighbourhood.   If Loblaws corp had to pay the same to attend the event, they’d be giving the Canadian Organic Growers $656,000 !

… Ron Eade has some more of COG’s side of the story on his Omnivore’s Ottawa blog.

UPDATE: There is some great commentary on Simply Fresh Ottawa [here] and [here] !

Timber Table


Shared via here.

Shared by jg

It’s pretty cool what a chisel can do.

Timber Table by Julian Kyhl. The Timber doesn’t need any tools for assembly(watch the video).

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