From a small patch in Wildwood…

Cross-posted at SlowCoast.

Oats in the furrow, ready to be covered

One of the main purposes for the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative is to get us thinking more about sharing solutions, as opposed to the current model, which often has us all off on our own trying to solve the same problems by learning the same skills and using the same resources. If we expect that we’re all going to need to become much handier at producing, preserving, and sharing food, then it makes sense for us to work better together: to share tools, ideas, space, time, and labour.

Our fast-paced and hyper-individualized culture has steered us away from collaborative projects; it’s become possible for almost everyone to do for themselves one way or another, thanks to abundant cheap goods. And we seem to have lost some of the appetite for group projects that characterized earlier generations, with their many service clubs, church groups,all the other pieces of a thriving community. To be fair, not everyone has punched their cards and checked out of the common effort, but we’re all going to have to get a lot smarter about how we work together to get the things we need.

Skookum was founded on the assumption that we all will need to become better equipped to understand how our food gets to our tables —that the work of getting the food to the table is going to become more widespread and more local. Although sometimes it seems that our efforts in this direction are puny and never enough, the only thing worse than not doing enough is doing nothing at all. (Or maybe doing something poorly.)

While we run around trying to get the gleaning project ready for prime time, while we prepare for our first general meeting of our members, we are trying to get a few little projects up off the ground. Something that particularly interested a couple of us was the idea of producing some of the grains we eat as part of our diet. A number of people hereabouts have been experimenting with Red Fife wheat and kamut, as well as other more exotic grains such as quinoa and amaranth. (And as my fellow Slow-Coaster Tom reports, buckwheat is another grain that people are growing here, if only as a cover crop.)

One grain I eat a lot of is oats, since I have a big bowl of oatmeal for breakfast most days. And, conveniently, Dan Jason at Salt Spring Seeds sells a variety of hull-less oats suitable for our coastal growing conditions. Sharon Deane, another director of the cooperative and an avid food gardener, was interested in working together to grow a pilot patch of oats, if only to see how well they grow, how much they yield, and what the process is for getting from field to cereal bowl.

And so, scrambling right up to the last minute, we managed to find a little patch of shared soil up in Wildwood where we can plant and tend our experimental crop for 2010, in the hopes that we will learn enough to expand the project for next year. This past Saturday we took our five packets of Salt Spring Oats, suitable for sowing approximately five hundred square feet of ground, and spent some time turning the soil, scraping furrows, planting and covering the oats. We’ll continue to visit our little grain patch —I’ll continue to blog about the progress up there — until the end of the season, at which time we hope to have enough oats to share around, roll into flakes, and make into a delicious bowl of local breakfast. (With local fruit, milk, and honey…)

Eventually it would be wonderful to see more people getting together for the purpose of sharing land and labour to grow ever-larger patches of grains, beans, and other storage crops. There is a project running our of Vancouver, Urban Grains, which shortens the distance between grain consumers and farmers by getting city folks to sign up for a share of the grain produced from a farm in Agassiz. This is a classic Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme, and these are starting to catch on all over the place, as regular people decide that they want to become more involved in the production of the food they eat. Passive consumption of foods coming from an opaque and mysterious system of production is looking more and more like a strange aberration, only possible during a time of extremely cheap fossil fuels and a style of imaginary economics that assigns no negative value to environmental destruction and social inequities so long as they are kept well out of sight.

For the three-and-a-half years that I have been living in Powell River, I have seen more people getting more involved with growing their own food and resuscitating the traditional skills of canning, preserving, and storing food. There is a real appetite here for self-reliance at the level of the individual and of the community. It’s one of the very positive and heartening aspects of living here. We need to start taking that energy and focusing it on shared projects which will spread skills, knowledge, and (especially) food amongst as many members of the community as possible. I’d love to see our cooperative work its way up to the point where our members can sign up at the beginning of the growing season for shared grains, beans, oil, vinegar, fruit, winter storage vegetables, and all the other aspects of a food-secure household.

So, even though this humble little patch of oats may not produce any great amount of food, what it will do is get us started on one project among many to bring people together to share land and crops. We will start to learn about the economics and the practical details of small-scale grain production. And we hope that people will be attracted to the idea of experimenting with self-reliance in staple crops.

Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses!