Friday, August 15, 2008

Prince Charles speaks out.

Prince Charles farming . . . in a tie

Bonnie Prince Charlie takes on Monsanto and friends©

By George Epp

Bonnie Prince Charlie has spoken out again, this time on the evils of corporate farming and the rush to genetically modified food products. Apparently he was being interviewed by the Daily Telegraph recently when he was reported to have said of the corporations concerned that they are conducting a “gigantic experiment with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong. Why else are we facing all these challenges, climate change and everything?” (Saskatoon StarPhoenix, August 14, 2008)

I’m not sure you can trust completely a person who ends his opinion with “all these challenges, climate change and everything.” Seems to me that climate change and genetic manipulation (not to mention “everything”) are separated by enough distance to make lumping them together and laying them at the feet of one villain unacceptable, rhetorically.

Genetic modification has been with us for a long time. Here in Rosthern, a man by the name of Seeger Wheeler selected seed from different strains of wheat and mated them until he achieved a desired result: better, earlier maturing grain. Wheeler, however, took years to achieve a very small alteration in the genetic makeup of wheat, and furthermore, he was not aiming at control over the seed industry and the chemical inputs that go with it like modern corporations are. I admit that I share the Prince’s skepticism about the practices we’re currently seeing in the food industry, primarily because they’re profit driven, and if power corrupts, then so does profit. Profit begets power.

The debate gets quite heated. On the radio the other day, an industry person and an ecologist were exchanging pretty emotional viewpoints on the subject. From industry: the growing population requires that the tools of genetic modification be applied in order to achieve the production that will be needed to feed everyone. From environmentalists: the corporate takeover of the food industry is effectively driving farmers off the land all over the world and forcing them to subsist in the slums and ghettos of the big cities. From environmentalists: the introduction of genetically modified crops is doing way more damage than good. From industry: No it hasn’t; it’s working really well. From the environmentalist: No it’s not!

Charles cites the onslaught on the water tables in India as an overt manifestation of the problem. New, genetically modified plants being grown require far more water than their predecessors, he says, and the end of that process is drought and famine. He also talks about the issues arising from increasing herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer use, all of which are already familiar to most of us.

Prince Charles is frequently the butt of jokes. He’s an aging heir to the throne who may die of old age before his wiry mother is ready to hand the throne over to him. His estrangement from the divine Diana and simultaneous entanglement with Camilla Parker Bowles didn’t help his image much, and most of us are automatically skeptical when a man of wealth and influence—who farms as a hobby—speaks out on the subject of agriculture.

But today I’m with Charles. We dare not put the earth’s future in the hands of the corporate elite. They make a mess of everything. They exploit, they pollute, they manipulate people, and they simply are not the kind of global citizen that is needed to grapple with the big issues of the day.

Go Charles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Harvest time in the Garden

Grow your own Food

Yesterday, as we harvested some of the goodies in our backyard garden, I thought about gardens when I was a kid and wondered if there will come a time when people will again garden for food. I've been told that the average item on our plates these days travels 1700 Kms to get there. Transporting food takes energy; fossil fuels are expensive and becoming scarcer; the globe is suffering from CO2 emissions, etc., etc.
I have a friend who market gardens. I believe he said that he grows $8.00 worth of food on a square metre. We have about 75 square metres for vegetables. This produces enough potatoes to last us past Christmas, carrots for most of the winter, tomatoes for a full year (in the form of frozen, canned spaghetti sauce and juice), plenty of beans, greens for the full summer, and so on. In June, we're eating strawberries that taste like the wild berries we used to pick on the prairie with enough left over for jam for the winter. Raspberries are our most beloved dessert throughout July and into August.
We also have a sour cherry tree that provides an abundance (about 30 Kg.) of cherries, a plum tree and a chokecherry tree that produce as much jam, sauces and jellies as we need for a year. Gardening takes energy too, of course., but in that it provides useful exercise, it's a win/win proposition. Moreover, there's no comparing the taste of a vine-ripened tomato picked 10 minutes ago with the tennis balls available in the supermarket; the same holds true for most of the other vegetables. New potatoes fresh from the garden with dill sauce and a bit of salt and pepper is a foretaste of heaven.
All our fruits and vegetables are organic; we know they haven't been sprayed, are not genetically modified.

Tomatoes and Zucchini

Green Beans


Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Sunday Morning Reflection

a prairie Sunday

One Sunday Morning – a meditation©

by George Epp

Sunday morning. It’s one of those rare prairie days when a brilliant sun caresses the earth through air so clear that you feel like you just gave your glasses a good cleaning. Every leaf, every blade of grass is in sharp focus here on 5th Street this morning, and it’s a relief to realize that there’s hardly a breath of wind to disturb the tranquility that is, well, Sunday morning of a prairie summer.

I was in a downtown Rosthern store the other day and as I made my purchase, remarked that it was already August 1. The clerk sighed and said, “Yah, summer will soon be gone.” It’s a distinct side of the prairie character, I’m guessing; an inbred pessimism that makes it hard to relish the great food on your plate when your thoughts are on the dismal fact that it will soon be gone and you’ll be left with that overstuffed feeling and absolutely no appetite.

If only every day could be like this day!

But then, life is not only weather, is not just about physical calm and warm, peaceful days between storms, winds and cold. As the sun arose this morning to herald an absolutely splendid morning, life was ending all around us. It’s an unfathomable sorrow for us mortals that things—no matter their splendour—must end, and that far too soon. The day is too soon over; the dinner too quickly eaten. The lilies that were so resplendent in the vase on our dining table two days ago are today wilting in the compost box.

Given these inevitabilities, what are we to make of the gems we hold fleetingly in our hands? For many, it’s become an obsessive resistance: a search for the fountain of youth by which the march to an end can be thwarted. An ad repeated nauseatingly on TV promises to even out the telltale wrinkles that remind us that youth is escaping our grasp. “Do not go gentle into that good night,” Dylan Thomas wrote to a dying father. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Others teach us that there are resources to be had that make it possible to relish each day like this prairie Sunday without lamenting the winter to come. I envy the tranquil people; I want to be like them. While some of us may say that we believe in the goodness of God as being central to the universe—and to those who live in it—others live each day in that reality as if it were knowledge, way beyond faith.

In any case, this morning I look forward to a great day. The sun, the clear air, the quiet seem like a glimpse into a world that is so good that it chokes us up to contemplate it.

The ends of things may wear a death mask, but there is a reality that declares every end a prelude to a sunrise.