Endangered Food Systems a Threat to Humanity

Dr. Kent Mullinix quickly captured the attention of his audience at

Dr. Kent Mullinix
Dr. Kent Mullinix

the Hedley Seniors’ Centre Friday evening when he said “No sustainable food system, no sustainable humanity. Food sustainability is going to be mankind’s supreme challenge.” At a time when crises threaten the outbreak of serious military conflict at various points on the globe, we did not expect to be told the most dangerous issue facing humanity could soon be a shortage of food.

Dr. Mullinix is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at the Kwantlin Polytechnic University. His two Phd.’s in agriculture related fields and almost 4 decades of experience in agriculture make his views worth listening to.

There was a discernible passion and intensity in his voice when he spoke of the significant threats to our food system. “Think about the trend,” he urged, “and about the logical conclusion the trend indicates. It’s the trend that is important, not a snapshot of the present.”

He said the agricultural industry is an 11,000 year old endeavour. The soil in the Similkameen valley, he said, took thousands of years to develop. The present industrial agricultural system has been in existence 50 years and, in his view, lacks adaptability and resilience. He pointed out that there is less diversity and it requires “propping up” with pesticides and fertilizers. These are damaging to the earth, thereby causing habitat and biodiversity destruction.

Dr. Mullinix considers the present system to be “hugely costly.” “It requires great amounts of oil and natural gas for energy,” he said. Small farmers are getting out. There is a tremendous consolidation in the agriculture sector. (In my conversation with him after the session he referred to large agricultural corporations as “robber barons.”)

“Money, machines, and fossil fuels have replaced strong backs, big hearts and youthful exuberance,” he told his audience.

The result, in his opinion, is that there is less nutrition in our food. “We have to pay more and eat more to get the same amount of nutrients. Spinach now contains little iron.”

Other consequences of industrial agriculture, he noted, are pesticide and fertilizer contamination, soil erosion, salinization, desertification, pollution of air, water and soil. Problems also include acquifer and ground water depletion and greenhouse gas emissions. Referring to information published by the National Academy of Sciences, he said “Current practises by large agricultural entities are producing the kind of conditions that create dust bowls. This begins to happen when carbon dioxide levels reach 450 ppm. We are now at 400 ppm.”

Dr. Mullinix compared the experience of conventional (industrial) farms versus organic farms in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. On organic farms there remained 40% more topsoil, and an average of 20% more vegetative cover. There was also an average of 40% less landslide incidence, 47% less soil erosion, and 69% less gully erosion.

“In B.C.” he said, bringing the situation closer to his audience, “there will be less precipitation, a smaller snow pack, increased temperature and higher sea levels. The cost of food will rise.”

In view of his dire predictions, we might expect Kent Mullinix to be immobilized by anxiety. Rather, he is working with others to educate and empower people, such as the group he addressed this weekend. He wants people to become aware of the challenge and develop a plan to respond.

”Our program is a people/community proposition,” he asserted.

He said they are working to establish Farm Schools, also referred to as Incubator Schools, to prepare young people for small scale farming.

“We need to support small scale farming,” he suggested. “It is possible to create jobs, businesses and produce food in the Okanagan. It’s a community builder and driver. Let’s work to keep the jobs and the money here.”

Dr. Mullinix’s keynote address set the tone for this second in a series of Community Conversations organized by Angelique Wood and Kim English. The conversation continued Saturday morning. Participants were divided into three small groups to discuss threats, weaknesses, opportunities and strengths, as they pertain to sustainable food systems. Date of the next “Conversation” will be announced and the organizers invite all interested citizens.

Bill Day: A Force in Adult Education (part 1 of 2)

Bill Day & Nellie, his 1930 Model A
Bill Day & Nellie, his 1930 Model A

It isn’t likely you will hear Bill Day talk about his MA in Adult Education, his years as President of Douglas College, the Order of Canada Award he received, or his service as a Citizenship Judge.  After visiting with him and his partner Lynn Wells for an hour, I came away with the distinct impression that at age 80, he’s just too busy and goal oriented to focus on past accomplishments.

From the beginning, he received very little without effort on his part. “We were depression babies,” he says.  “Things were ok until my alcoholic father was fired from his position as a prof at UBC. The next 5 years were terrible. We were hungry a lot.  I remember card boarding my shoes. Work was scarce in those days so we considered it a stroke of good fortunate when my mother was hired by Finning Tractor. Her pay wasn’t great but at least the family had a steady income and stability.”

 

Necessity made it essential for him to be proactive and creative. “To pay my camp fees at YMCA’s Camp Elphinstone,” he remembers, “I cleaned out-houses.  It was something no one else wanted to do. I was my own boss. I liked it. I learned that if you do work others don’t want to do, you get respect.”

He developed the habit of doing whatever it takes. To pay for his UBC tuition, he worked at the paper mill at Ocean Falls. “I learned on the job and became a millwright,” he says. “I loved the work and I loved Ocean Falls.  It was there that I started teaching English to immigrant men in the evening in the bunkhouse.” Helping those men put him onto a path he was to walk on the rest of his working life.

One day his foreman came to him and said “Bill, I’ve been authorized to offer you a job in administration. However, I don’t think you should accept it. In a few years you would be bored.  My advice is go back to school and train for a career in teaching. You have a gift for it.”
(continued in part 2)

Bill Day: A Force in Adult Education (part 2 of 2)

 

Bill Day & Lynn Wells at Hedley Farmers Market
Bill Day & Lynn Wells at Hedley Farmers Market

Bill had the good sense to accept the advice of his mill foreman and returned to university. After completing his training, he began his teaching career in Quesnel.  Here he taught during the day and tutored Italian railroad workers in English four evenings a week. Subsequently he taught in Maple Ridge, continuing to teach English at night, and then accepted a role in Surrey as one of the first full-time Adult Education administrators in B.C.

His growing experience and expertise in Adult Education brought an invitation to go to India for a year, to advise the Rajasthan State government in this field. “They didn’t really need me,” he says, “I learned from them and it was a wonderful experience. I loved India.”

Upon returning to Canada, he was asked to plan the development of Douglas College. He subsequently became Dean of Continuing Education and then served as President for 15 years. He also wrote feasibility studies for two other Community Colleges.

Bill considers himself very fortunate. “Until I retired,” he says, “I was always in the right place at the right time. I served under people for whom I had great admiration.”

Observing him participate in the community organizations of Hedley, it quickly becomes evident that Bill’s good fortune had less to do with luck than with preparation and the willingness to do what is needed.  Undoubtedly, a positive outlook and a touch of charm helped too. His partner Lynn Wells describes him as “a hard worker, very bright, personable and proactive.”

Understanding that everyone appreciates recognition, he gives it quickly and enthusiastically. He is convinced that by working collaboratively, a community can accomplish what seems impossible. This positive, proactive thinking has many times attracted the attention of people in authority and power. For his work in Adult and International Education, Bill was awarded the Order of Canada.  Then, after official retirement, to his great amazement, he received a call from Ottawa offering him a position as Citizenship Judge.

“I was certain at first they had the wrong Bill Day,” he recalls.  “When they assured me they didn’t, I was thunderstruck.”  Pausing as though reliving that moment he says, “it was very affirming. It told me I had actually done a good job.” “I loved the work and carried on for ten more years until I reached mandatory retirement at 76.”

Bill is still doing a good job, even if he doesn’t get paid for it now.  At the Hedley Museum he said to the Directors, “tell me what you need done and I’ll do it.”  Last year he spoke at Hedley’s Canada Day celebration and also at the Remembrance Day ceremony.  He is currently spearheading the development of Unity Park in Hedley.  He and Lynn are “devoted” volunteers at the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. This morning, before our visit, he painted woodwork and washed windows at the Seniors’ Centre.

After sitting across the table with Bill and Lynn for over an hour, I realized that his mind hadn’t lost its focus even for a moment.  He is optimistic, bright, high octane, apparently healthy, and community minded.  I wasn’t surprised when he said at the end of our time together, “it’s being a great life.”

Life and Times of Carrie Allison (Part 1 of 2)

Although as a child Carrie Allison completed only the fourth Carrie has a green thumbgrade, I came away from a two hour visit with her feeling I’d been educated in history and wisdom. She was sent from her home in the Merritt area where she was born, to a residential school in Kamloops at age 8 and was educated there until age 12.

Carrie is now 83 and even though her experience in the residential school wasn’t as horrific as what we often hear about in the media, the memories still haunt her. A note of sadness creeps into her voice when she says, “my dreams about it are always bad. In one dream I hearing a baby crying at night, but it is dark and I can’t find it.”

She pauses a moment to reflect, then continues. “I was away from home 10 months at a time. There wasn’t enough to eat and I was always hungry. We ate in the same room as the staff, and we could see they had meat on their plates. We were given only vegetable soup and one slice of bread. At Easter they gave us one egg with our meal. I knew mostly the language of my people, but I was punished if I spoke it. In winter they made us walk to town. My hands and feet got really cold. We weren’t allowed to talk to the boys or even look at them. We were in the classroom half a day, the rest of the day we had to work. The girls cleaned up the dormitories, the priest’s room, the hallways, play room and dining hall.”

Knowing she looks after the diminutive white chapel situated on a bluff overlooking the Similkameen Valley, not far from Hedley going toward Keremeos, I ask why she is still involved with the Catholic faith. Many would have turned their backs on the faith because of the pain caused by the school experiences.

“People sometimes ask me that,” she answers. “I tell them God didn’t do that to me. It was people. I never look back. I tell the kids to always look ahead and try to make something of themselves.”

Carrie never knew her father. Fortunately her mother was deeply committed to her family and Carrie speaks of her as a wonderful role model. “She was very small,” she says. “She tanned hides and traded them in town. She also made gloves and moccasins.”

Carrie recalls clearly the injunction of her mother to “take care of yourself. No drinking. Before you go away, do the dishes and clean the house.”

Now a mother and grandmother herself, she does all she can to pass on the values of the older generation. “Young kids don’t know what we went through,” she says with a perceptible hint of disappointment. “Sometimes I think we should take them back to our time. No electricity, no indoor bathroom. We had to pack water from the river. Mom didn’t have a washing machine so she carried her laundry to the river. She heated water in a tub there and after she washed the clothes, she hung them on branches.”

I sense now that in her mind she is reliving those times. “Sometimes we bathed in the river. In winter we heated water in the tub and bathed there. Those were happy days. I was with my family.”

 

Life and Times of Carrie Allison (part 2 of 2)

In 1942 Carrie’s mother married a member of the Upper Carrie in her homeSimilkameen Band and they moved to Hedley. “The town looked new to me then,” she says. “People dressed up.
I saw ladies wearing hats and white gloves.” She recalls they could flag down the Great Northern train and catch a ride to Oroville.

When she was 12, her stepfather took her to the home of Charlie Allison, at that time band chief. Here she met Edward (Slim) Allison, her future husband. Slim was told by the Indian Agent, “you should be on the band council. You can read and write.” In time, Slim became band chief. When he was in this role, she worried about him. “You can’t please everybody,” she says, again experiencing the concern she had for her husband at that time.

“Slim always gave me the pay from his work at the sawmill in Princeton.” I sense her pride as she remembers how responsible he was about finances. “He told me to pay the bills and if there was anything left, I could give him some.”

At age 40, Carrie attended 3 semesters of academic upgrading. Someone at the school suggested she enter a hair styling course. She accepted this advice and registered for a course in Vernon. For the last two weeks of the course she made the long trip from Hedley to Vernon every day. Having had my hair cut by her many years ago, I still recall her cheery attitude and words as she clipped.

Now at an age when no one would be critical if she retired to a rocking chair, Carrie gives little indication she is ready to slow her pace. In addition to cleaning the little chapel, once a year she hires boys to harvest the weeds from the adjacent cemetery. Records indicate the chapel was likely built in 1901 and she feels a responsibility to those who made it a reality at a time when remoteness of the area made this difficult. “I think of the old people who worked so hard to bring the lumber and windows and other supplies here to build it,” she says. “We should keep it up in their honour.” When there are 5 Sundays in a month, the priest comes and she attends the service. In winter she often invites the people to meet in her home, due to lack of adequate heat in the chapel.

“It is important to preserve the Indian culture and ways,” Carrie says. “I’m learning a prayer in the band language. I don’t want the language to be lost. Not many can speak it anymore.”

On the first Wednesday of each month she attends an elders lunch in Keremeos. She still sews quilts. “I tried making moccasins, but I’m not good at it.”

Carrie is a committed fan of early Country and Western music. “When I was in Nashville,” she tells me, “I saw Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Earnest Tubb and Kitty Wells.” When I ask if she likes Jerry Lee Lewis, famous for his Great Balls of Fire hit, her response is enthusiastic. “Oh yes. I like him.”

Carrie has experience, wisdom and an enthusiasm for life that many with a Masters Degree would envy.

 

View Looking West From Carrie's House
View Looking West From Carrie’s House

 

Dad’s Upward Path (part 1 of 3)

In Mr. Loeppky I saw one possible direction, a downward path. In Dad I saw another possible direction, an upward path.

By age 12 in the mid-1920’s, Dad was already working on his father’s threshing crew in rural Manitoba. Shortly after the devastating stock market crash of 1929, crops began to fail due to prolonged drought, and work became scarce. As a young man in the midst of the Great Depression, he joined hundreds of other out of work men who leapt into empty boxcars or rode the rods, looking for employment. Often his pay was $1.OO per day, when he could find work.

After his parents lost the family farm in the 30’s, they moved to a small settlement known as Barkfield. For the most part, its inhabitants consisted of two large families, the Martens and the Funks.

At times Dad worked in the bush with the young Funk men, cutting cordwood for which there was a market in Winnipeg. He developed great admiration for their ability with axes and saws. “They were skilled and very quick,” he told me in later years. “I could never keep up with them.”

Dad and the Funk boys became close friends. One day Jim Funk asked him, “are you going to the barn dance tonight?” Dad said, “No, I don’t have anyone to take”.

Mom & Dad's wedding day, Dec. 1, 1939
Mom & Dad’s wedding day, Dec. 1, 1939

“You can take my sister Annie,” Jim said, as though there was no doubt she would agree. Annie was a light hearted young gal with long black hair. She did agree to the date, the beginning of a romance later culminated in marriage.

When World War 2 started, Dad was drafted but registered as a Conscientious Objector. Many adherents of the Mennonite faith were pacifists, one of the primary reasons they had emigrated from Russia. They had left behind established villages, thriving farms and a stable, satisfying existence. A judge questioned Dad as to his reasons and apparently decided his motivation was genuine. He was sent to a forestry camp in Ontario and then to work as a tipple operator loading train cars at a coal mine in Saskatchewan.

In about 1946 Dad bought a Model A Ford and prepared to move the family to BC. All our belongings were in a single truck strapped to the back of the vehicle. With two paying passengers to help cover the cost of gas, our family made the at times arduous trip to Abbotsford, B.C.

Dad’s family had made the move previously and his brother Cornie was working as a heavy equipment operator. Although Dad’s experience with motorized equipment was limited, Cornie got him a job running a bulldozer. When the dyke along the Fraser River was being constructed, he was hired as a heavy equipment operator. Because he refused to work on Sunday, which in the Mennonite faith is considered a holy day, he was let go. His faith would always be important in staying on what I think of as his upward path.

Dad’s Upward Path (Part 2 of 3)

Dad on front-end loader

As a boy, just about all I knew about my Dad was that he operated a bulldozer and lived in logging camps more than at home.  I recall getting up very early on a Monday morning to see him off in his Model A Ford.  I didn’t know where he was going or when he’d be back.  Understanding now how dangerous his work often was, I realize that each time he departed, might have been my last opportunity to see him alive.

I was a teen before he occasionally talked to me about his logging experiences.  One account particularly unsettled me. “I was working for old man Beach,” he said.  “He told me to build a logging road alongside the mountain, pretty high up.  At the bottom of the mountain was a river.  I needed to turn the machine many times to push earth and rock to the outer side of the road.  Each time when I lifted the blade, I could see that river a thousand feet below.” I shuddered inwardly at the thought of that big bulldozer going over the edge, carrying my Dad to his death.

Apparently his employer had an enormous bank account.  On another occasion Dad said, “Old Man Beach told me to build a logging road up a different mountain with a very steep grade.  I knew that even for my cat it would be hard work getting up there. I told him no logging truck has an engine powerful enough to make the climb.  He wouldn’t listen.  He just told me to build the road or he’d find someone who would.  I needed the work so I built him this impossible road.  When the trucks arrived at the bottom of the mountain, the drivers looked up at the incline and shook their heads. ‘Too steep’ was all they said and walked away.”  Mr. Beach showed no concern at learning the road was useless. Dad thought he was spending his money as fast as possible so his children wouldn’t get their hands on it.

In time, Dad bought his own machine and obtained a contract to clear agricultural land.  When I was about 14, he decided it was time for me to learn a trade. He began taking me along to his work sites in summer. I’m still surprised that very soon he was instructing me in the use of 20 per cent dynamite to blast huge stumps out of the ground.  Doing it right made it relatively safe, but I always kept in mind Dad’s dire warning.  “If a stump doesn’t fire, don’t go back to it until the next day. One of my customers didn’t have the patience to wait. His head was blown clean off his shoulders.”  My only complaint about blasting was that handling the dynamite brought on killer headaches.

Dad also instructed me in the use of his heavy McCulloch chain saw, operating a bulldozer and backhoe, and later in driving a dump truck with air brakes.

Working with him, I became aware not only of his skill with equipment, but also his courage.  Several times I watched him building a road along a steep hillside.  He had plenty of experience in this from his logging jobs, but sometimes he manoeuvred the big machine so close to the edge, I felt certain it would tip over and he’d be killed.  For me it was terrifying, but he always reversed the machine just in time.

He was physically rugged and extraordinarily resolute. Whether swinging a 12 pound sledge hammer, welding in a hot summer sun, or getting his bulldozer unstuck from a swamp where an operator had left it, he didn’t complain.  As a teen, this won my respect.  My close friends all referred to their fathers as “the old man.”  I could never do that.

Although I wasn’t yet willing to listen to his words, my future path was being shaped by his actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad’s Upward Path (Part 3 of 3)

IMG (2)

As my maturity increased, I realized that underlying Dad’s physical attributes and strong will, there was a deep compassion for people in need.  One evening he picked up his large, very heavy tool box.  I asked him what he was going to do.

 

“John can’t figure out how to replace the clutch on his car,” he said.  “I‘ve done that before. We’ll get the job done in no time.”  Dad hardly knew John, but after that they became close friends.

I came to understand that Dad always put relationships ahead of personal gain.  When he was asked to bid on a large job, he invited his friend Henry to join him.  The contractors told Dad they wanted him to do the work, but Henry’s equipment was too old and he was not welcome. Dad knew Henry would be discouraged if he was left out, so he turned down what would have been his biggest contract ever.

Dad and I worked closely in the bulldozing and trucking business until I was 24.  Although I had enormous respect for him, I did not have the maturity to listen to his words about how to live.  Understanding this, he didn’t attempt to persuade me. In time, it was his example of complete integrity, as much as his courage and skills, that persuaded me to adopt much of his value system. When he lost a valiant battle against cancer at age 95, I said to a friend, “more than anyone else, Dad’s example impacted my life and shaped it. If I ever become half the man he was, I will consider my life to have been a success.” Without realizing it at the time, I had begun to walk on the path Dad walked on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hedley’s “Foundation” Years Part I

In 1973 Len and Jean Roberts, founders of the One Way Adventure

Len Roberts at the Colonial Inn
Len Roberts at the Colonial Inn

Foundation, began with a simple booth at the Cloverdale Rodeo.  They offered camping, cycling and canoeing expeditions. A probation officer liked their vision and on behalf of her Surrey office, negotiated a contract with them to operate an extended program for youths on probation.

Soon probation officers were dropping their most recalcitrant adolescent clients off at the Roberts home.  Sometimes it was with the explanation they would be camping, canoeing, or joining a football team. Len had to inform them their PO had actually placed them in a longterm program of rehabilitation. With these often rowdy youths assembling in the Roberts back yard each morning, anxious neighbours spent a lot of time peeking through slits in closed curtains. They were understandably concerned about their personal and property safety.

Desperately needing a larger, more appropriate place as a base, the Roberts purchased  3 acres with a home and small barn in Surrey.  As their reputation for effectiveness increased, probation officers and social workers clamored for more spaces to send youths  out of control in their home, school and community.

Len quickly realized they would have to get some of these hard to manage youths into a more tranquil and secure setting.  The Gold House and Colonial Inn properties on the outskirts of Hedley were derelict and available and he was able to acquire them .

Just prior to the purchase, the inn was seriously vandalized.  At about this time, one of the young vandals was placed in the Foundation’s Surrey program for other unlawful activities.  Not realizing the Foundation had just purchased the property, and wanting to establish a tough guy image, he foolishly boasted to Len about his part in the vandalism. Len immediately sent him to Hedley to help staff with the clean up and repairs.  The building was named the Camp Colonial Lodge

Eventually 4 programs operated out of the Hedley setting.  The youths were assigned to work projects such as fence mending, building trails, cutting grass etc.  In time there were food prep, mechanics, retail and riding courses.  Rigorous back packing and canoeing expeditions, skiing, rock climbing and rappelling were also part of the mix. Most students attended the Foundation school.  Extremely difficult cases were sometimes sent to Upper Camp, part way up the Tram Line.

While Jean ran the office, Len built the organization.  Needing space for programs and storage, he managed over time to buy several buildings, which were for the most part derelict and empty.  Although not charismatic in the usual sense, he was able to explain his vision, purpose and methods in a manner that appealed to individuals eager to devote their lives to a significant purpose.  The work was often arduous and the pay wasn’t great, but workers continued to come and stay. Several youths, after completing their program, were accepted into a one year training course for young workers starting with the organization. Upon completion the Foundation brought them on as staff.

  

Hedley’s “Foundation” Years Part II

 

Len Roberts & Art Martens at Colonial Inn
Len Roberts & Art Martens at Colonial Inn

The Hedley operation became both the wilderness and administrative centre of the One Way Adventure Foundation.  Liking its highly effective approach combining work skills development, academics and wilderness expeditions, the government contracted for day programs in Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

Possibly it was the organization’s success that aroused the ire of a small cadre of elderly men in Hedley.  For several years they plotted against the organization, hoping in some way to discredit it. In 1986 they complained to the two major Vancouver dailies that the OWAF was a cult.  Always searching for the dramatic, one reporter managed to make the allegation a front page story, based entirely on unproven speculation.

 A government inspection team, consisting of men in dark suits, quickly descended on Hedley.  They spent a week meticulously scrutinizing financial records and interviewing youths, staff and residents.  In the end they determined there was no reason for concern and completely exonerated the Foundation. 

In the early 1990’s, a new  government switched its youth programs from a regional to a community model.  Len chose not to go in this direction and reluctantly folded the organization.
   
Now, some 20 years later, newcomers to Hedley might be inclined to ask if the Foundation made any lasting contribution to the community.  In response to this question, a  member of the Hedley Museum Society said, “if it wasn’t for the Foundation, some of our larger structures would not have survived.  They did major upgrades on several empty, neglected buildings.”  
The presence of young staff, usually carrying 2-way radios, helped seniors feel more secure. Also, at that time there was no garbage collection and one program provided this service for staff, seniors and the disabled.   Finding someone to replace a door or toilet, or fix a leaky tap was often difficult..  The OWAF developed a service to fill this need.  Using government grants, they were able to provide training and employment for 10-12 local residents.  
 
Certainly, the most important contribution lies in helping hundreds of young offenders acquire useful skills and develop a more positive self-concept. They returned to their community much more aware and confident of their potential.
 
Although the Foundation is gone, it still lives on in the memories of people who were here at that time.