We are one month into the United Nation’s proclaimed International Year of Soils. “Soil, where food begins,” is the rallying cry. I’ve two books to suggest for a soils reading list, one new, one old. The new or relatively new book (2007) is “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” by MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award winner David Montgomery. In his book, the star attraction at Horticulture Nova Scotia’s annual gathering three years ago wrote that, “Throughout history, societies grew and prospered as long as there was new land to plow or the soil remained productive. Things eventually fell apart when neither remained possible.” So, how are we doing?
The other book is “Soils and Men,” the 1938 Yearbook of Agriculture from the USDA. The chapter, “Soils and Society,” by then Chief of the Soil Survey Division, Charles Kellogg, is a treasure chest of insights into things we’ve had these 75 years since to get right, but have not.
“The art of agriculture is inseparable from the art of homemaking,” Kellogg wrote.
“Homemakers are savers – the true conservationists. The substitution of the business of farming for the art of agriculture signified the first encroachment of city ways into agriculture itself. The land and home of the farmer then became capital. Through the inheritance of this capital by farm-born city dwellers, through payment of interest, and in other ways, cities may sap the vitality of the country.”
While recognizing the importance of cities, Kellogg warns that it is “rather the concentration of wealth and credit facilities in the city, especially as associated with absentee ownership, that may work a real hardship on the farmer.”
Soils and soil erosion will be topics of discussion in our April issue looking at the up- and down-sides of “no-till” farming as practiced by conventional and organic farmers and gardeners. We welcome input from readers. Have you cut back on tilling the soil? How have you done it and how has it worked?
Needles in spuds; needles in arms. Needless to say, whether vaccines or vandalism, stories about needles have dominated the news of late. The fact that most if not all of the needles buried in potatoes happened to come from one farm vocal in its criticism of the moratorium on deep (high-capacity) wells for irrigation has led to suspicion by some that “environmentalists” favoring the moratorium did it. That is objectionable. Someone (or ones) not thinking or mentally unstable did it.
It is odd that “environmentalist” has become a pejorative. I’ve yet to meet anyone who says he or she doesn’t care about the environment. So who’s not an environmentalist?
As for needles in arms, I’m one of those incorrigible, anti-social anti-vaxxers. “Anti” is an over-statement. I lean that way, however, in the matter of vaccinating everyone for influenza or for every childhood disease, measles included. The media hoopla over measles this winter is strange. One hundred cases in the United States and we are going nuts. Last winter there were 700 cases in Quebec and nary a peep.
The World Health Organization reported 146,000 deaths from measles in 2013 worldwide, which comes out to .02 deaths per thousand, mostly malnourished children.
Producing vaccines is bigger business than feeding kids. That is, if there is a market. There was no market for an Ebola vaccine until this latest outbreak in Africa occurred. The patents on as many as four potential preventatives (including one invented in Canada) for this disease that kills half who catch it were sitting about un-tested and therefore unavailable when there was a desperate need.
Coming into this winter there was once again a great push for everyone to be vaccinated against influenza. For some professionals it was going to be mandatory. As winter and flu arrived, however, the vaccine available was found to be ineffective against this year’s strain.
Influenza viruses are fast-moving targets, changing all the time. Just the same, a company’s chance of making a killing by coming up with a vaccine that’s on the mark for the bug-of-the-year is just too big a lure to pass up. Especially if governments directly or through universities are paying for basic research.
Polio killed or crippled thousands each year before Salk developed a vaccine. Most everyone, it seemed, lined up for immunization as soon as it was available. I never heard of hateful accusations being directed at anyone deciding not to be immunized.
The case of BSE (Mad Cow) in a northern Alberta beef cow, first since 2011, is disconcerting but not alarming. It is unlikely we will every be without the very rare case of this brain-wasting disease or a close variant cropping up in bovines (cattle, both dairy and beef), ovines (sheep), caprines (goats), or cervines (moose, deer, elk) – or in humans where it is known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Our neighbors Florence Ross and Arnold Hintermann raised sheep, goats, and poultry on their mini-farm until before Christmas when Arnold’s heart gave out. His death was sudden and totally unexpected. Immediately, Florence flew into action, selling livestock and putting the property on the market. Things were on the block as well, including a doctor’s buggy beautifully restored by Arnold, a master of master craftsmen. This was listed on our Facebook page and elsewhere.
Those who know Florence well would probably say that was not an unexpected reaction. She has a quick and decisive mind. Through Horse & Pony editor Lisa Hines word of the buggy spread through the Annapolis Valley horse community. A young schoolteacher responded. She came to look and fell instantly in love. The buggy was just the sort she’d long dreamed of hitching to her Fjord.
Florence recalled the conversation that followed.
“But I’d never be able to afford it,” the young woman said.
“Oh, you can afford it,” Florence replied.
“But how much are you asking?”
“It’s yours, take it.”
Buggy, and harness too, Amish-made, chrome studded, used once.
Arnold’s work was not done. A couple of years ago he built an elaborate Victorian birdcage that since has commanded a corner of the kitchen, minus a bird. Arnold said it was for a male canary, some day. In early February Florence responded to an ad on Kijiji from a woman outside of Halifax who was selling birds, including a male canary. There was no response. Florence was not dissuaded. She sent the woman a photograph of the one-of-a-kind cage. That did it. Today “Noldi” sings his little bird heart out while flitting from perch to perch in the elegant home that Arnold built.
Is an ice age on its way? This winter we’re getting a snoot full of snow. While groaning over the walk that needs shoveling, pity the farmer looking for where to push snow so’s to keep the feed coming in and the food going out. Pity the family restoring the sugar bush for the upcoming maple syrup season that last year began just about now.
We blame every other unusual weather event on global warming. Why not record snowfalls, a result of there being more moisture in the air? Nuclear physicist and renaissance man the late Dr. Philip Morrison spoke of a theory that a rise in mean temperature at the North Pole of as little as three degrees F might result in more snow each winter than would melt in summer. As glaciers are made of accumulating snow, we would have the makings of an ice age.
Continuing the debate about whether or not we can feed nine billion or 29 billion people, it is curious that there never seems to be consideration of the time in future when Canada once again is covered in ice.
Happy shoveling, DvL
And the winner is. . . .
The winner of a copy of “Getting Rid of Alders,” gleanings from the first quarter century of Rural Delivery, is Wiebke Tinney from Grand Barachois, N.B., who has a mixed farm raising livestock, fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Public transport, and the protection of wildlife and forests are on his list of rural area’s greatest needs. Thanks to Wiebke Tinney and others who took the time to fill out our readers’ survey in the January issue. Find the survey this month on page 50.