When people began arriving at the Hedley Fire Hall Saturday morning for the spring bottle drive, they were amazed at the imposing mound of black garbage bags piled in front of the hall. The bags were full of bottles and cans, waiting for volunteers to sort them.
Sponsored and organized by the Hedley Grace Church, the event is enthusiastically supported by many in the community. People save their empties for both the spring and fall drives. They seemingly like the fact that the funds will be used to send children and youth from the community to summer camp.
Fortunately it was a bright, pleasant day and volunteers
could work outside or at a long table inside the Fire Hall. The constant scurrying to the mound and back to a table made counting volunteers challenging, but in the end organizers said there had been 10 children and youths and 15 adults. One man said he and his wife and two children have come for more than 11 years. Both youths will again attend camp this summer. Several other parents and their children also participated fully.
Although the volunteers worked with quiet resolve, there was also some banter and at times laughter. It was an opportunity for people to become not just neighbours, but also friends.
In past years the church has sent 8 to 10 children to Camp Tulahead. The bottle drive pays for a portion of their camp fees. In cases where parents are unable to make up the difference, the church pays the additional amount.
When it was all over, Pastor Graham Gore ’s assessment of the event was upbeat. “We had more cans and bottles donated than usual,” he said, “and the turnout of the community to help sort them was better than most years. People agree with the purpose and some really chipped in and worked with us to get it done. We are deeply grateful for all the support.”
Dr. Kent Mullinix quickly captured the attention of his audience at
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.
On February 10, Hedley’s Senior Centre was crowded with community leaders and advocates from Princeton to Penticton, Osoyoos and Kamloops. They had come to hear Julie Fowler, executive director of the highly successful ArtsWells Festival.
It was the first in a series of “Community Conversations” organized by Angelique Wood, RDOS Director of Area G, and Kim English, a director of the Hedley Heritage Museum Association and Assistant Manager of the Grist Mill.
Purpose of the workshop, according to Wood was to “improve existing festivals and also to encourage networking among participants ” She said “this type of meeting will enable us to form lasting bonds and grow our communities.” English said she hoped people would hear something of value they could take back to their own community and apply there.
Fowler, who has been in Wells 10 years, told the group her passion is to support artists of all kinds. “I want to bring them together,” she said, “and I want to bring their art to the world.”
The Wells festival began small. “In the beginning we gave away a lot of tickets so people would come. And if an artist showed an interest we begged them to come. There was little money to pay them, but we did feed them.”
She advised her audience to use existing facilities and look for funding through corporate sponsorships and government grant programs, in addition to selling tickets. “Publicity is important,” asserted Fowler. ArtsWells has found the CBC to be helpful.
Fowler said last year the festival sold out and had about 2000 guests. They require approximately 220 volunteers, most of whom come from outside Wells. Many of the artists and guests stay in tents during the 4 day festival. It is still “quite grass roots.”
Currently the Wells festival features over 100 musical performances on 12 stages. It offers more than 20 different workshops teaching everything from Ukrainian dance to lyric writing, clowning and more. Activities for children include a crafting station, a children’s stage and workshops geared towards children.
There are also screenings of independent films and local theatre productions. A one minute play festival is always popular. Added to this is a host of inter-genre literary performances and workshops, including story telling/writing, poetry and the unexpected.
Following Julie Fowler’s presentation, Bob Nicholson of the Okanagan-Similkameen Conservation Alliance participated in a panel discussion. He spoke about the Meadowlark Nature Festival which takes place in Penticton. It features hikes, history, wild life and much more. Each year they have an artist paint a picture, usually of a Meadow Lark, and put it on t-shirts which are sold to raise funds. “We could use more help,” he said, “including a few additional people on our board, and we need money.” He expressed a desire to work with other groups. “A lot of the power is already in this room,” he suggested. “Often we don’t know who has the experience, knowledge and skills.”
At the end of the workshop there was palpable excitement and enthusiasm as attendees exchanged ideas and contact information. Angelique Wood described the presentations as “inspiring”. Another Community Conversation will take place in April at a date to be announced.
The boys basketball tournament at Robert Bateman Secondary demonstrated how skilled and competitive boys and coaches are at that level. With only one exception, I was impressed with the attitude of players and coaches. The one exception was a coach who, in the opinion of many spectators, appeared to be more intent on winning than on developing his players.
Early in the game his team was ahead by 6 points and he called a time out to scold them. Throughout the game he was loud and disrespectful in his instructions and comments to his team. Unfortunately, his thinking and attitude were reflected in rough play by the team.
I have long believed coaching young players in any sport is an opportunity to prepare them for adult life. They are developing attitudes and values they will rely on in adversity and also in success. Sports can teach discipline, commitment, respect for others, staying strong in times of disappointment, and much more.
I mentioned the negative approach of this coach to a longtime, highly successful coach of Abbotsford softball teams. He told me that at the beginning of each year he had a chat with the parents of his players. His primary message to them was “ don’t be critical when players make a mistake. They are young. Encourage them.” His teams won numerous medals. This coach wanted to help his players develop a sound foundation for all of life.
My grandson played in the basket ball tournament this weekend. I am pleased that his coach is an encourager. At his age, positive mentoring is more important than winning.
In mid-December, approximately a dozen highly committed members of the Hedley Senior Center worked feverishly to create a successful potluck experience for some 80 attendees. Very likely, similar events took place in other communities. And almost certainly, the number of guests far exceeded the number of those who organized the event and served. After the Hedley potluck, a member of the Senior Center said to me, “We’re getting old. We need younger bodies.”
Most small communities are kept alive by giving, participating citizens. For a community to be vibrant, it needs the ideas, energy, and skills of many people.
Having been active in volunteering roles most of my adult life, I know that when we give our time and talents to society, we will almost certainly derive unexpected benefits. We gain new skills and experiences. We meet other active people. My wife and I have gained close friends through volunteering. And the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from giving far exceeds any monetary value.
Community organizations can only survive and thrive if people participate. If everyone does something, no one needs to do it all. And by making a contribution now, we will pass on to our children a more interesting, compassionate and cohesive community.
A decision to volunteer would make a worthy New Years Resolution.
(This post was written when we were still living in Abbotsford, several years prior to our move to Hedley.)
Last week we were given one more reminder that we are not grappling seriously with a significant societal failing. Another homeless person has died on our streets.
I noted with interest that in The Abbotsford News (October 31,2009), the account of this most recent death was juxtaposed to a story about the three Plan A projects. Reading the two articles, I concluded that as a society we have learned a good deal about creating impressive structures, but relatively little about developing communities that enable all citizens to live productive lives.
This is not to in any way disparage the efforts of committed individuals, churches and other organizations providing shelter and various kinds of assistance to street people. I do feel, however, that we are doing little more than talking about the problem.
The well intentioned comments by some community leaders when Compassion Park was in the news several years ago, is an example of this. Our track record since then has been dismal. The same is true in Vancouver and throughout Canada.
As a society we have had a vision for building expensive structures for our pleasure. Where is our vision for dealing with a cancer that is endangering the safety of our citizens and the well-being of our entire nation?
A small town perspective on people, community, politics and environment.