The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
October 22, 2009
Title: Sustainable Agriculture at Fleming College / The Local Grain Revolution XI (Sailing Grain Year 2)
Producer / Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Jennifer D'Souza
Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly radio show produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia. Deconstructing Dinner airs on radio stations around the world including CJLX Belleville, Ontario and CHUO Ottawa, Ontario. I'm Jon Steinman.
Well another exciting weekend has come and gone for the Kootenay Grain Community Supported Agriculture project. Between October 15th and 18th, a fleet of 11 sailboats made their way from the city of Nelson to the Creston Valley of British Columbia to once again pick up a cargo of locally grown grains and transport it back to Nelson. Launching today's episode, we'll recap the second year of this exciting stage in the evolution of this local grain project that Deconstructing Dinner has been documenting now for over 2 years.
And then for the remainder of the show, we'll learn of an amazing new agriculture program for new farmers being offered at Fleming College in Lindsay Ontario. You might already be familiar with the name of this new Sustainable Agriculture program at the college because over the past few weeks they have become a weekly sponsor of Deconstructing Dinner. We'll hear from the founder of the program Helen Knibb and we'll meet two of the many who have also been involved in developing the program. Tom Hutchinson, a heritage livestock farmer in Indian River, Ontario and the President of Rare Breeds Canada, and we'll hear from Sue Chan of Lakefield, Ontario who has helped develop the curriculum and will also be involved in guiding new students through the topics of soil, soil amendments, composting and weed management.
Waves Crashing, Water Moving, Voices in the background.
Male Voice 1: I'm going to bring my stern in a bit. Bring your stern to me.
Male Voice 2: Okay.
Male Voice 1: Wanna ease the bowline a bit for me there.
Male Voice 3: You can take that green boat there.
Male Voice 4: Ya, take those bags there.
Male Voice 1: Bruce, wanna ease the bowline a bit, and we'll move the big fenders back.
Sounds of bags of grain being stacked
Jon Steinman: Those are just some of the sounds recorded on the weekend of October 17th on the waters of Kootenay Lake. Regular listeners might recall our March 2009 episode that featured a full one hour recording from October of last year, when a small fleet of 4 sailboats transported 5,000lbs of locally grown grains from the Creston Valley of British Columbia to the city of Nelson. The grains were grown as part of the Kootenay Grain CSA, a community supported agriculture project that we've been documenting here on the show as part of our Local Grain Revolution series. Well, just as expected, the sail transport of some of those locally grown grains has become an annual event and on the weekend of October 17th a much larger fleet of 11 sailboats transported, this time, 11,000lbs of grains and legumes grown this past year as part of the project.
A collection of photos has been posted on the Deconstructing Dinner website that helps tell the story of this amazing community effort to transport a quarter of all of the grains and legumes grown this year for residents in Nelson. Also posted on the site at deconstructingdinner.ca and under our Local Grain Revolution page, is a satellite image of Kootenay Lake that provides a pretty good glimpse into the scope of this trip, as Kootenay Lake is one of the largest in the province. Deconstructing Dinner was of course on board yet again for the trip, but because we already shared, not too long ago, a pretty comprehensive collection of audio from last year's voyage, we won't be getting into too much detail this time around but there are, of course, some highlights worthy of sharing.
One of the nice additions to the trip this year was the increased support from local businesses who are also becoming members of the project and buying into the grains and lentils grown this year. One of those businesses is the Old World Bakery located in the community of Balfour who donated a loaf of bread to each crew involved in the grain transportation.
This year Deconstructing Dinner was on board the Makai with skipper David Oosthuizen who last year skippered the Kelpie and who we heard quite a bit from on our broadcast featuring that 2008 trip. Joining David this year was his wife Chantale and their two kids Yael and Seth. And also joining our crew once again was CSA co-founder Matt Lowe. After the 11 boats and crews gathered in the community of Balfour early Friday morning, we picked up our fresh bread from the Old World Bakery and made our way out onto the main body of Kootenay Lake, where just like last year, strong winds took us south towards the Creston Valley. Of the 11 boats, 7 of us arrived that evening at the north end of the Creston Valley at Kuskanook Harbour while the other 4 boats stayed overnight in a sheltered bay not too far north of the harbour. Here's CSA co-founder Matt Lowe, interviewed only days later on Kootenay Co-op Radio where he recounted the time spent at Kuskanook.
Matt Lowe: So we camped at Kuskanook on Friday night and had a little bit of a party. There's a good galley on one of the larger boats so we did, I imagine, what they used to do in the sailing days and played a little bit of poker and had a few drinks. It was a fun night and then we woke up to brilliant sunshine on Saturday and that was a surprise because we were expecting rain and we were wondering about the challenges of unloading grain from trucks onto boats with rain. We didn't have to worry about that. The farmers showed up, some folks from Creston showed up and it was really a lot of fun. You know, there were families along and the kids just jumped right in there. They loved having the bags of grain being passed to them and being involved. And you know the saying, "many hands make light work," it went incredibly smooth, incredibly quick and everyone had a really good time. So we loaded up the boats and were away, I say all of us, by about 11 o'clock.
Dave Heath: Dave, Dave Heath, owner, skipper of Snooker and Red Sky at Night Sailing Adventures from Nelson. I was roped into it by a bunch of these sailors 'cause I got a big boat and they said that I could bring out a bunch of grain.
Male Voice: How big's your boat here that we're standing on?
Dave Heath: Ah, thirty-five feet. So I can probably take about 2,000lbs.
Voices - Bags of grain being moved
Guy Simard: My name is Guy Simard, I live in Rossland, BC. We're standing on a Hustler 30 SJ, it's called, you know. It's built by Oyster Marine in the UK. It was an old off-shore racing boat. We're trying to load, maybe 1500lbs on this boat, maybe 1200lbs minimum.
Voices - Bags of grain being moved
Jon Steinman: While some boats were able to take over 2,000lbs others loaded up with no more than 600lbs. Members of the grain CSA who arrived from Creston also brought along some food for everyone to share. All of it, of course, having been grown and produced in the Creston Valley. Such as baked goods from the grains we were transporting, cherry juice and dried cherries from the valley's well known cherry orchards, apples and cheeses produced at the nearby Kootenay Alpine Cheese.
And also joining us in Kuskanook was some other media aside from Deconstructing Dinner. Leading up to the weekend the CSA had contacted media throughout the province and even across the country to raise awareness of not only the unique transportation being used for these locally grown grains, but to raise awareness of the grain project itself, which is also unique. On the dock in Kuskanook was CBC radio's Bob Keating who would later produce a 10-minute segment about the project for listeners in the southern interior of the province and a shorter segment aired throughout the day across the entire province such as this one here.
CBC Radio: And lastly to the Kootenays. It's smooth sailing for Canada's first community grain project. Farmers in the Creston Valley began growing grain for their neighbours 2 years ago and as Bob Keating reports it's growing by leaps and bounds.
Bob Keating: It's like a journey from another era at a lake harbour near Creston. 20lb sacks are loaded onto sailboats. Volunteer David Oosthuizen, will captain some of the cargo to Nelson.
David Oosthuizen: We enjoy sailing anyways and, I don't know, there's a little bit of romance and adventure to it all.
Bob Keating: The adventure is the country's first community supported grain project. Last year 200 people bought in. This year, coordinator Matt Lowe says that number tripled.
Matt Lowe: We have individual shareholders so these are families that are buying 100lbs of grain but we also have about a dozen businesses so a lot of people in the Kootenays are going to be eating local grain this year.
Bob Keating: The idea is to partner families with farmers so they know where their food comes from. For the first time in his life farmer, Keith Huscroft, planted wheat and oats instead of hay.
Keith Huscroft: The big thing is the people. You really get a connection with your customer. You get to have a little bit of fun doing your farming now and you're appreciated. They stand behind you. It's kind of a new thing for a farmer.
Bob Keating: This valley used to be a breadbasket for the local area but farmers haven't grown much grain here for a long time. Now they're growing it for their neighbours. Bob Keating, CBC News near Creston.
Jon Steinman: A segment produced by Bob Keating for CBC Radio.
When the 11 boats were filled with 20lb bags of lentils, red fife wheat and other varieties of grain, we departed Kuskanook enroute to Nelson. The winds were strong for about half of the journey north to Pilot Bay, not far from the entrance to the West Arm of the lake that would later guide us towards our Nelson destination. 10 of the 11 boats dropped anchors in the sheltered area of the bay known as Sawmill Cove where 8 of the 10 boats pontooned together to make a rather large floating raft. And the evening was an incredible reminder of the unique culture that was forming around this now, annual voyage. Images of our 8 boats tied together are posted on the Deconstructing Dinner website. But just imagine, in the dark of night, the rain falling heavily on the boats and the many crews hunkered down in the boats' cabins with dim lights, organic beers from the Nelson Brewing Company and freshly-made pasta prepared from the previous year's red fife wheat. Here again is CSA co-founder Matt Lowe, interviewed on Kootenay Co-op Radio.
Matt Lowe: Ya, and then we got into Sawmill Cove. We tied up the boats and we all had a pasta dinner that a lovely young man in Nelson, named Jessie, who works at Oso Negro and is a young gourmet cook, he made everybody gourmet pasta and the pasta was made from the Red Fife wheat from last year. He made this delicious sauce so everyone had a nice hot pasta dinner. He also made a squash soup and there was a boat that people were jamming music and there was a boat where people were just hanging out. So we did that for the night and then we woke up to beautiful skies again on Sunday and great winds and we actually sailed pretty much the whole way from there into the Prestige, the city wharf on that day.
Jon Steinman: Shortly before we departed for the weekend sailing voyage, I briefly spoke with Jesse Phillips, the chef that Matt spoke of, and he described in more detail the meals that he prepared for the 11 crews.
Jesse Phillips: So I've got some roasted pumpkin and apple soup, some pasta, home-made pasta with Red Fife wheat, some Alpindon cheese cream sauce. That's dinner for Saturday night. This is for the grains CSA sail, sailing down to Creston and I made about 40ltrs of pasta. I was making it for about 14 hours, rolling out the pasta by hand and cutting it and blanching it off and mixing a whole bunch of vegetables in.
Jon Steinman: As the crews woke up to sunshine yet again, we departed Sawmill Cove where strong winds took us across the main body of the lake and into the mouth of the West Arm, the body of water that flows by the City of Nelson, after which, it eventually flows south across the border and into the United States. Once in the West Arm the winds died down but there was just enough wind coming from behind us for all the boats to raise their spinnakers (those are the largest of the sails carried on any sailboat). And the images of this leg of the trip are amazing and I encourage listeners to again, take a look at these photos on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the October 22nd 2009 episode. And adding to the excitement of this leg of the trip, with all the boats sailing their spinnakers was the close proximity of the boats to the shoreline and one of the main highways in the area. Just before departing Nelson I encouraged the many radio hosts at Kootenay Co-op Radio who were on the air throughout the weekend to remind residents in the area that the boats would be sailing into Nelson on late Sunday afternoon. And sure enough we could see homeowners standing on their back decks cheering us on, we could see people pulling off to the side of the road and honking their horns and again this was another reminder of how this trip was truly a cultural event and an amazing way to raise awareness of this local food project that will be feeding this year 450 families with grains and legumes and providing even more food to over 10 businesses who have now invested into the project.
We arrived in Nelson right on schedule and to a crowd of over 50 people who had gathered on the municipal dock to greet the fleet of boats. Also on the dock was a 4-piece band that we could hear as we approached. And without any need to coordinate, helping hands came from every direction to unload the 11 boats of their grain cargo.
Voices yelling - cheering - people clapping - band playing music - voices in the background - sounds of sacks of grain being unloaded.
Jon Steinman: The 11,000lbs of grain unloaded were taken only a block away to Ellison's Market, one of Nelson's independent grocery stores who generously offered to store the grains for a few weeks before members of the grain CSA were allowed to come and collect their shares. The store is also one of the largest commercial members of the CSA and will be assisting the project to transport the remaining 30,000lbs that will arrive on the truck that the store already uses to transport other foods from the Creston Valley to their store.
This again is another great example of the many individuals, organizations and businesses who are stepping forward in the community to make this local grain project as successful as it has been in only two years.
And to further extend some acknowledgements and thank yous to the many people involved, Deconstructing Dinner would like to extend a thank you to the 11 crews who participated throughout the weekend including skippers David Oosthuizen of the Makai, Shannon Holmes of Kelpie, Dave Heath of Snooker, Jay Blackmore of Selene, Jim Raeburn of Joanna, Guy Simard of the Mojito, Mike Bowick of Breezen, Alden Hamilton of Astrolita, Ira Schwartz of Kendra II, Kevin Shepard of Green and Cassidy Tutsch of Irish Mist.
Of course a lot of appreciation and thanks needs to be extended to the farmers Joanne and Drew Gailius, Carol and Keith Huscroft, and Sherry and Roy Lawrence.
Acknowledgements to CSA co-founders Matt Lowe and Brenda Bruns and the rest of the grain CSA's Steering Committee, CSA administrator, Gail Southall, Creston miller Jennie Truscott and Nelson miller David Everest, who I should also add, was part of the 4-piece band playing on the dock to greet the boats and of course, on that note, thanks to the rest of the band.
A big thanks to Jesse Phillips for preparing the most amazing food for the 11 crews.
And thank you to some of the sponsors and supporters of the trip, the Nelson Brewing Company, Oso Negro Coffee, the West Kootenay EcoSociety, Wildsight, the Kootenay Lake Sailing Association, the Kootenay Country Store Co-operative, and the Old World Bakery
And also a thank you to all the local and regional media who shared this story with their listeners and readers. It's not often that a story here in Nelson makes the cover page of all three of Nelson's newspapers. Images of that news coverage are also posted on the Deconstructing Dinner website.
Music playing - Singing
Earl Hamilton (singing):
Situation is in our hands,
To be the threads of our community.
Got to find our tools close to home.
We can buy our wheat from Creston now.
Farmers got a share sale, they know.
It gives me a sense of content somehow,
To know we can get our bread so close to home.
Jon Steinman: And that again was Nelson resident Earl Hamilton and his tune Close to Home, a song written last year in honour of the Kootenay Grain CSA.
And you're tuned into Deconstructing Dinner.
For the remainder of the show today, we'll expand on a really exciting new agriculture program being offered at Fleming College in Lindsay Ontario. Regular listeners of the show might be familiar with this program as over the past few weeks, Fleming College's Sustainable Agriculture program starting this coming January has become a weekly supporter of this show.
And what makes this new program so exciting is how nicely the proposed curriculum touches on so many of the areas of focus that Deconstructing Dinner has shared for almost the past 4 years now. It's a curriculum that as far as we're concerned appears like a perfect way for any inexperienced and interested new farmers to be introduced to many of the critical pieces necessary to launch a profitable and sustainable farm business. For the remainder of the show we'll hear from the coordinator of the program, Helen Knibb and from Tom Hutchinson and Sue Chan who have both also been involved in the development of the program and who will also be guiding students throughout the 1 year curriculum.
To first learn more about Fleming College, Helen spoke to me over the phone from her office in Lindsay, Ontario.
Helen Knibb: Well, Fleming College is a community college. There are probably, I think it's around 22 colleges in the Ontario system and Fleming is a small to medium size college. We're positioned in a very interesting area because we're close to Toronto but we really do actually have a large and significant rural population base as well. The other distinctive feature of Fleming is that we have 4 campuses that are fairly widely distributed. So we have one that is in the south that is in Coburg on Lake Ontario. Our northern most campus is in Haliburton. And then we have a campus in Lindsay, which is where the new program will be positioned.
The Lindsay campus is our School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences and it really has this quite unique and wonderful and distinct culture because the students who are attracted to that campus come there very specifically because they're interested in environment, they're interested in the outdoors, they want a hands-on education. It's just a remarkable place, when you cross the threshold of that campus, the energy is distinct.
Jon Steinman: As the coordinator of the new Sustainable Agriculture program being offered at the college, Helen Knibb has brought with her a unique personal background that lends insight into how and why this new program came to be. The story she shares also stresses the importance of farming education programs like this one being able to reach out into the community and connect with all of the players necessary for a viable local food system.
Helen Knibb: I grew up in England and I grew up in a village community, in a rural environment and I worked on farms. I was very actively involved in the young farmers' clubs there. I had this very interesting point in my own career development, which in one sense has been a huge influence on where I am today. You probably know that the English system is very strongly based on tenant farming. It's actually very difficult to get land in England or to really engage in farming unless you end up working for pharmaceuticals or something like that.
When I got to the age of sixteen I boldly applied to go to agricultural college and I even more boldly applied to go to an all male college and this was just after the Sex Discrimination Act came through in England in 1975 and I got this very sort of resounding rejection. It was quite funny. It was this very brief letter that said, "We regret to tell you that we are not accepting women at this time. We have no toilet facilities for women." And that was the beginning of my adventure with training and education in agriculture. Suffice to say I actually didn't go to agricultural college. I went a completely different route. I studied the Arts. My background actually is museum work and I came to the college to lead a program in museum management and subsequently moved into the area of curriculum development. And I think, Jon, I never really lost sight of that original goal which was how to connect with the land, the desire to farm, just the need to be living in a rural environment and to feel part of that environment.
And so, a few years ago those elements began to come together for me in that, I did buy a farm locally and began connecting with other new farmers, ecological farmers within the region and just began to become part of the discussion around new ways of thinking about doing things. Be it training and education, be it our systems and approaches or the way we think but really engaging in that community and being stimulated by that community.
My job here at the college now, I am involved in program development and so a couple of years ago began sewing the seeds, making the suggestions that maybe this was a program that we needed to start paying attention to in terms of development. That it would be a really good fit for our Lindsay campus. That it really aligned well with those Environmental programs and that simply it was really the right time, in terms of the needs of new and beginner farmers that were really beginning to populate the district and were really beginning to emerge in new and interesting ways but didn't always have a good path to follow or even a path to follow in terms of training and education. So at once there was this incredible synergy that began to start to come together in terms of all those pieces but very much seeing this program as part of a regional need and needing this program to be based in the community and in partnership with the community.
Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner.
Helen Knibb is the coordinator of the new Sustainable Agriculture program being offered this coming January at Lindsay Ontario's, Fleming College. Helen also shares an overview of the program and how it was developed.
Helen Knibb: We tried to position the program in such a way that we were really focusing on the needs of new and beginner farmers who in many cases do not necessarily have a strong farming background, who in many cases are not going to inherit the farm or even see the prospect of going to buy land but who none-the-less want to farm. And also trying to build a curriculum that really focused on ecological farming methods, sustainable farming methods and exploring those systems and practices.
We wanted to make sure that what we did explore within the program were really non-capital intensive start-ups. Very often one could say we were looking at small farm liability though we've had a lot of discussions about what small farms actually mean or look like but I think that, that's actually a very strong principal throughout the design process. We were looking a farm diversification, looking at niche marketing and very obviously wanting to insure that there was a really strong integration of business skills in that program construct as well.
And the program really is designed for people who, I think in many cases, they've already got a university degree and yet they didn't necessarily take a Science degree. They may have taken an Arts program and yet at some point in the learning process have decided that they are really interested in food and food systems and farming and want to find a way in.
Jon Steinman: One of the reasons Deconstructing Dinner has become as excited as we have been with this new Sustainable Agriculture program, is how over the past almost 4 years now that we've been airing this show, we hadn't come across any educational program offering anything like this one soon to be launched in January. And to be sure, I asked Helen if in her efforts to develop this program had they come across anything else like it.
Helen Knibb: I don't think there is very much else out there that is similar. You know, there are a number of excellent programs, well excellent courses that are being offered on a sort of one-one-of basis. For example, Nova Scotia Agricultural College has some really good online courses in organic practice. There are excellent programs at UBC which has it's own farm and is also looking at the Agroecology Sustainable Act pieces, University of Manitoba, McGill and obviously Guelph but there didn't seem to be anything that really targeted this particular group of new and beginner farmers who I think are coming from a very different place. Who would not choose necessarily to do a 4 year degree, a 4 year conventional degree. Who want a different way in to start their farming practice.
Sponsorship Announcement: Support of Deconstructing Dinner is in part provided by the new 1 year Sustainable Agricultural program starting in January at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. Learn from farmers while participating in farm field days, sight visits, community-based learning activities and an on-farm summer co-op placement. For more information go to flemingcollege.ca
Jon Steinman: This is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly radio show and Podcast produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. I'm Jon Steinman. And you can learn more about the show and listen to archived versions of our previous 152 episodes by visiting our website at deconstructingdinner.ca.
And here again is Helen Knibb providing an overview of how the program will unfold throughout the year.
Helen Knibb: It's a 1 year intensive, running January through December, which is in itself is a sort of non-conventional format. It's divided roughly into 3 semesters but even the 3 semesters don't align with a traditional academic year. The first semester is really about providing a general and holistic overview and students will be exploring the foundation principles in sustainable agriculture and looking at areas such as soil sciences, weed ecology and management, farm insects, pests. Moving on to looking at things such as small-scale livestock production, small-scale grain production and really being given an opportunity to, I think, get a flavour of. The key here is we know these students won't be experts at the end of these modules but the way that we've designed them is really trying to integrate opportunities to be in the field, to connect with local farmers, to see successful operations, to get a sense of what might be possible.
The mid-point of the program really begins to focus and students do, do an on farm co-op for about 20 weeks which is really designed to align them with a farm which parallels their own interests and goals and really build on those first semester ideas. And at the end of that co-op they come back to the College, and it would be after Thanksgiving, and they really then begin to focus much more on the business side of things in terms of the marketing strategies, business plan, the farm plan.
Jon Steinman: Now one of the fears any prospective farmer might have with even considering pursuing a life of farming is profitability. Farming is after all one of the least profitable businesses to be in regardless of the size of the operation. But profitability is a key focus of the Sustainable Agriculture program at Fleming College and Helen Knibb speaks to this concern.
Helen Knibb: You mentioned the word profitability and that actually is integrated into the program aim and I think it was a topic that came up at our Advisory Committee discussions and every program at the College has to have that Advisory Committee of practitioners representing the field to help shape, guide and form the curriculum. The farmers on that committee felt very strongly that this topic was introduced front-end and that we were not presenting a program that was really, sort of, offering a nice lifestyle choice but without that critical edge in terms of can you make an honest livelihood doing this.
It's a difficult thing to build into a program and we've tried to do that. I'm not sure how successful we will be but it is certainly a very strong element that goes through most modules of the curriculum. I would say that there is this constant decision making process that students are going to be engaged in, in terms of, you know, this maybe a great idea but is it going to give me a livelihood. I mean you're right John, it's a huge challenge but it is one of the essential underpinnings of the curriculum is the belief that it is possible through good planning and good practice, through good strategy and through good marketing to make a livelihood in farming.
Jon Steinman: Another question that should also be asked around the nature of this program is this idea of sustainability. Just what is sustainable? While industrial agriculturalists would have us believe that their model of producing food is sustainable, a small-scale market gardener would also argue the same. In light of the program at Fleming College being named, Sustainable Agriculture, Helen addresses what the College is defining as sustainable which, she suggests, is rooted in the nature of community and valuing rural life.
Helen Knibb: I think there's a few principals around this. One is trying to promote an approach to agriculture that really aligns with natural ecosystems and at the same time there's these other two really important pillars of sustainability which is the economic viability, which is the community engagement and the healthy communities and thriving communities which is a huge part of the things we need to pay attention to in terms of farming. And you can't farm in isolation. You have to be in the community and part of the community and that actually meant a lot to me as somebody who lives in a rural area that we are trying to create and support this culture where rural life is truly valued and where we are thinking about rural infrastructure as being an important asset in our communities that we can't afford to ignore.
At the same time and one of the things we also felt very strongly about in designing the program was that it is not descriptive in terms of where somebody chooses to put their stake in the ground or how at the end of this they will define themselves. So we are going to be presenting an overview of a whole range of methods and approaches and ways into sustainable agriculture from biodynamics, to permaculture, to certified organic, to ecological farming principals and really encouraging students to make good choices for themselves. There is a continuum and people will find themselves somewhere on that continuum.
Jon Steinman: Helen Knibb of Fleming College's Sustainable Agriculture program.
Helen spoke earlier of some of the others involved in developing this program many of whom will also be offering their on-farm experiences to students as the year evolves. And to get a brief introduction to just some of these individuals I spoke with Tom Hutchinson. Tom has worked at nearby Trent University for the past 20 years in their Food and Agriculture program. He farms in Indian River, Ontario and is the Director of Rare Breeds Canada.
Tom Hutchinson: Well, I'm a professor at Trent University which is only about 45 minutes from Lindsay, where the Sir Sandford Fleming program will take place. I run my own farm, which is largely a sheep farm. I particularly utilize heritage breeds. So I have outdoor pigs and heritage chickens and so on, and I've done that for about 25 years. I run the Trent University, Food and Agriculture program so I have a number of courses there in sustainable agriculture and in agricultural alternatives which is all the opportunities for niche marketing and so on. I also was Head of Rare Breeds Canada which is the heritage livestock conservation ngo (non-governmental organization) for a number of years and we run the National Head Office out of my office at Trent University.
Jon Steinman: Tom goes on to share how he has been involved in developing the Fleming College program and what his involvement will be once the program commences in January.
Tom Hutchinson: Well, I'm on the Advisory Committee so I've been involved, in fact, Helen and I worked very closely for a number of years on trying to get this going there and trying to get Trent's programs expanded. My actual involvement in terms of instructions and courses and things, I'll be giving some modules on pioneer agriculture and the history of agriculture in this area and in Ontario. I'll be talking also about the utilization of heritage livestock and organic farming and the nice mesh there is between when these breeds were developed and the purposes for which they developed which was in the periods which were basically and totally organic, before 1950.
Jon Steinman: Heritage foods have been a past focus here on Deconstructing Dinner and for good reason. Just as Fleming College's new program is one focusing on sustainable farming practices, Tom explains why heritage breeds of livestock lend themselves to this notion of sustainability.
Tom Hutchinson: The reasons that we utilize them is, first of all I think that they have important contributions to make. They've all been developed for commercial purposes, many of them a dual purpose. They were not developed at times when there was plentiful antibiotics or herbicides, pesticides, they were developed before those. They were developed before there were high nutrient inputs into the system through inorganic fertilizers. So these are animals which were on the farms in Europe and in North America from the 1850s and onwards and we ran a fairly sustainable system in Canada from about 1850 til' about 1950.
So these were the animals, these were the work animals that enable that to be possible. They've got all kinds of good creatures that have been selected for general docility and mothering instinct, for being able to produce well under somewhat harsh conditions in terms of cold and so on. They developed for use in unheated barns and facilities, all about which is the opposite from where industrial has gone. And you know they taste good.
Well the pigs, the 3 breeds that I've raised are Berkshires, Tamworths, which is sort of pig of the year at the moment, they're the ginger outdoor pigs and I've raised English Large Blacks. So these are 3 of the key heritage pigs that were prominent in agriculture back before 50 years ago.
And then in the chickens, well I suppose, the main important one, commercially from the past was the Dorkings. So, I raise Silver-Laced Dorkings and there were even commercial flocks of those until about 1950 in the Peterborough/Lindsay area. Their dual purpose, good egg layers, very good meat birds. Friends of mine raise Jersey Giants which have similar attributes.
On the sheep, I've had a variety of sheep that are heritage breeds but the ones that I've concentrated on recently, really are Cotswold Sheep which are long wool sheep that the ram, the male might produce a fleece of 20 to 22 pounds of top quality wool and they're also good crosses with the Down breeds, so that they're big sheep and docile, good moms and so on.
Jon Steinman: Tom Hutchinson.
Also lending their experience to the development of this new Sustainable Agriculture program has been Sue Chan of Lakefield, Ontario.
Sue Chan: I have a long-standing interest in agriculture. I started off as a young person doing a Diploma in Agriculture at McGill. Then I went on to do a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture at McGill and then I went on to do an Environmental Science Masters at Guelph. And in the process of all that, it's not the pieces of paper that matter, in the process of all that I met quite a few interesting people who had a different take on agriculture rather than the standard agriculture that we were being fed at school. Many of them were professors, as a matter of fact, and I began to think of agriculture as more than just taking as much out of the soil as you could possibly get and making a maximum profit. That's where I started.
Now I've always had a strong connection with growing things especially plants and insects. I've spent a lot of time getting to know those things in the natural world and that's my interest there. Then I became interested in food production at the individual level. As people growing their own food, people becoming aware of where their food came from and people becoming aware of the cycles of food production throughout a year.
Jon Steinman: Sue will also be involved throughout the program and will work with students on the important topics of soil, insects, and composting.
Sue Chan: Well, what I'm hoping to do is not be the sage-on- the-stage because I don't feel that I can be the sage-on-the-stage. So what I'm hoping to do is be, sort of, a keeper of certain portals that I would open up and make people aware of just what's out there. My responsibilities are for maybe what you could call foundational modules. So those would be soil science, plant science, insect science, composting. Those are sort of the basic underlying bits of information that new farmers have to be aware of, they have to know how they all fit together and then they will go on to apply all that stuff in other modules. So those are the modules that I'm working on and I'm struggling with and I'm trying to develop modules in this foundational stuff, that is not academic per se but are information portals so I open doors to allow students to find information, to know where information can be retrieved and then to help them organize this information into a holistic view of all these things.
So for example, I want them to learn about soil science but rather than having them do labs on soil structure, soil particle size and all this kind of stuff, which will never be used in a practical sense, I would be approaching this from a demonstration point-of-view. And then I would be bringing in people who, local farmers or experts in the field, to come and discuss this kind of stuff in sort of a panel format with students. And then I would be asking these students to think about very particular things that they would then apply to their co-op placement with respect to all this information.
Jon Steinman: Sue Chan.
On today's episode of Deconstructing Dinner, we're learning of the new Sustainable Agriculture program commencing in January 2010 at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. If you miss any of today's show, it's archived online at deconstructingdinner.ca and posted under the October 22nd 2009 episode.
With not enough time to explore in depth some of the other areas of focus the program will introduce to students, one that stands out that sets this program apart from others is the introduction to on-farm maintenance and repair, an important area for any new farmer seeking to avoid the capital intensive models currently dominating food production.
Helen Knibb: We are going to be taking students out to farm auctions, to dealerships, to different, sort of, context in terms of really looking at and assessing a whole range of farm equipment with regard to what are the choices you make, what are the best choices, how do you buy, how do you position other alternatives such as sharing, barter, contract work. So there are one set of decisions around, do you really need the equipment in the first place and if you do, how are you going to access it in the way that is in good sense for the nature and scale of your own enterprise. I think there is another absolutely critical part, which is working with farmers in the region to look at and share the strategies that they have developed as well.
There is another piece of this module that we also felt incredibly strongly about, which is, if you do have the equipment you know how to maintain it and we actually have a heavy equipment program at the Lindsay campus. So the students will in fact be taking things apart, putting things back together again, knowing where the grease points are, knowing how to maintain stuff, once they manage to get it.
And there is another, I think, really important part of that particular module where students will also get basic training in tractor operation and that was something that, once again, our Advisory Committee felt really strongly about, was that students be safe operators. So there is a component of the curriculum where they will have the opportunity to practice.
Jon Steinman: Another unique area of focus of the Sustainable Agriculture program is on-farm processing and preserving.
Helen Knibb: A lot of the successful small-scale operations around here, I mean, one of the things that they've been doing well is exploring those aspects of on-farm micro-processing but also that whole question of how you get produce to market in ways that are really effective and thoughtful. And so, there's a couple of things here, that component of the curriculum will be workshop based and it will cover a range of aspects. I mean, obviously, there's a huge part of this where we are dealing with food safety and food handling and, you know, that's simply a non-negotiable. But I think that there is that question of, so how do we incorporate some of those non-negotiable, in good design and good systems on-farm and, you know, so even on a very practical level there probably will be a design component where we'll look at, well, how do you actually design and potentially construct a really good cleaning/sorting station and what are the ergonomic factors that you might have to consider in doing that as you bring produce to market.
Jon Steinman: And one last and important area of focus that we'll have time for today is access to farmland. This has been an ongoing topic of focus here on Deconstructing Dinner and certainly a critical piece for any new farmer. Pat Learmonth will be lending her experience to this component of the program and Helen Knibb explains.
Helen Knibb: Well Pat has been very closely involved with, I think, what really has become a province-wide movement in Ontario where a number of the existing non-profit organizations that have been supporting new and beginner farmers have really begun this really, sort of, active networking to bring together farmers who have land and who potentially want to share land, farmers who know that they don't necessarily have family who want to continue the succession and are really challenged with succession planning and in fact, non-farmers who have bought land and have land and feel that they want it to be farmed but they don't know how to go about finding someone to farm it in ways that perhaps align with their own sense of land stewardship. And so then, I think that there's just been a lot of activity in this area around bring those people with land together with those who desire and seek land and who want to farm using ecological methods.
There are new bodies of a new website that we have in the province called, Farm Link, which is, sort of, brokering some of those activities. We are actually seeing more formal face-to-face events occurring where we are bringing those two groups together and the work that Pat is doing is important. I mean, also from a legal perspective, she's been doing an extraordinary amount of research around land tenure and looking at different approaches or different models of land tenure and how that sharing actually works from a legal perspective or could work from a legal perspective. And I think it is an incredibly important aspect of this program. As I've said, because my sense is that probably we're seeing a 50/50 break down of perspective students in terms of those that have land and those who don't have land and are really going to be needing that kind of shared arrangement in order to start their operation. Certainly within this region we are seeing a lot of activity in that area occurring and occurring, I think, very successfully.
Jon Steinman: And that was Helen Knibb, the coordinator of the new Sustainable Agriculture program being offered this coming January at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. Prospective students can learn more about the program at flemingcollege.ca.
And to wrap up today's episode, we'll leave you with some final words from Tom Hutchinson and Sue Chan who we heard from earlier. Both have been involved in the program's development and they lend their thoughts on the importance of this type of education being offered in Canada and the importance of expanding this type of education into other educational institutions across the country.
Tom Hutchinson: Well I think it's a great initiative, in a sense it's a recognition of a demand that new farmers, or transferring from, want a very hands on experience. They want to learn things on the farms and with farmer instructors with lots of experience. They want to, perhaps, not have quite such an academic classroom kind of background. There will be co-ops for several months, four or five months, co-ops in this program, and they'll have very close contact both on the land and in the labs and classrooms with farmers and with instructors, such as myself, who've got a fair bit of experience.
There's a very practical end to it. They'll be given some pretty good practical instruction on marketing and advertising, how to make sure that the products you produce are actually wanted, how to increase the interest in what you're producing, niche marketing and things of that kind. How to run a sustainable farm so that you don't degrade the land, so you actually have an income as well, so you can keep the family on the land and so on.
Sue Chan: Very, very, very important, I think that, now I've also had this discussion with Helen, there is a generational gap in knowledge about farming and about all the different parts of farming. Like all the different things that come into play. Somehow or other, I absorbed a lot of information from my farming grandparents but there is a definite generational gap in which most people have not absorbed a lot of information from either their grandparents or their parents or from anybody. And so, they are wanting to start farming and yet they have none of this basic core knowledge.
And the other important thing about this program is that it's a sustainable program, it's a program which suggests that farming needs to be sustainable both from a financial point-of-view and from an ecological point-of-view and from a community point-of-view, that farms are not in isolation from the rest of the community.
And then the third thing, I think that's important about it, is that it's an in-and-out program. You are coming in, you are getting these foundational pieces, you're getting some practical applications and then you are going out to a co-op and you're applying all this stuff in a very specific setting because farmers all work in very specific settings. They don't need to know about soils in general, they need to know how to learn about the soils on their farm. Right? And so, that's one of the great things about this program, which is why I'm so enthusiastic about it. The focus is correct.
Tom Hutchinson: I think we should have a great deal more of these starter programs in the various colleges across the country because it gets you out close to the communities and they have a history of practical training, in a sense, job training and technical training. There's a nice link between Trent University and Fleming College in this sense. There's more and more connections between the two and that's really developing strongly in agriculture.
I think the colleges offer practical experience, actually, and they also offer a very nice jump directly, in this case, on to the land, on to the farms in the community. There is an enormous amount of enthusiasm in my own courses. I take students out to a lot of farms and I don't think I've yet asked a farmer in 15 years here at Trent if they would let the students come out to the farm, the answer's always yes. Always yes. They're very keen to see young people going there and this is going to partly fill some of the gaps for training, giving a good background of, in a sense, farming and business experience, in how to make a living on the land without destroying it.
Sponsorship Announcement: Support of Deconstructing Dinner is in part provided by the new 1 year Sustainable Agricultural program starting in January at Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. Learn from farmers while participating in farm field days, sight visits, community-based learning activities and an on-farm summer co-op placement. For more information go to flemingcollege.ca.
Jon Steinman: And, that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.
The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson area resident Adham Shaikh.
This radio show is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations around the country and relies on the financial support from you, the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or by dialing 250-352-9600.