RD Pot Luck May 2017

Killing country
    Finn Poschmann, of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, published a column in the first week of April about the importance of innovation, a central theme in the most recent federal budget. The word cropped up frequently in the budget, Poschmann pointed out, along with “a related concept – the cluster.” 
    “Now, economists have known for ages that incomes and output per person are higher and tend to grow faster where people and businesses bunch together in cities,” Poschmann continued. “In many cases . . . the gains come not only from having a lot of people and business around, but from specializing, from being in a related industry.” 
    After more discussion about clusters and close relatives in economic jargon, he stated, “The million-dollar question for the past generation has been whether governments can do anything about creating successful clusters. The jury is still out.”
    Put aside that this is all about cities. The rural economy, too, relies on clusters for cultural and financial health, vibrancy, and innovation. And if the jury is still out as to whether governments can do anything about creating successful clusters, it is not out about what it can do to destroy them. It doesn’t take a jury to find governments guilty of policies and regulations that have, intentionally or not, helped significantly to decimate farm clusters and the communities that depended upon them. Add fishing- and forestry-dependent communities as well.
    For farming, examples include failing to maintain levels of support through extension services, and allowing supply management quota to be a commodity in itself, consolidated in fewer and fewer hands – to the exclusion of new players. 
    For independent inshore fisheries, an example is no farther than the harbour outside my window. Forty-five years ago, as soon as the lobster season ended my neighbours turned to hand-lining, netting herring in the bay, and setting trawl for cod, haddock, and cusk. Not anymore. And not because they – or their inshore fishermen friends up and down the coast – fished the waters out. As a neighbouring fisherman pointed out, they have been left barren by processor-owned draggers destroying habitat and juvenile fish, and by seiners descending on spawning herring (harvesting roe and discarding the rest), while the government increased regulations and provided fewer services for the inshore fleet.
    As for forestry, it’s clear cut. In a couple hundred years we’ve gone from harvesting ships’ masts and lumber, to pulp, to pellets. 
    We see the result in abandoned schools, country stores, and churches; in gated driveways to starter castles and former year-round homes of fishermen and farmers debased to “cottage” status in urban cocktail party chatter. It’s tough to be the last working stiff on your road, your once supporting cluster of similarly occupied neighbours having packed it in.

    On April 5 the Globe and Mail reported, “Conservative Sen. Lynn Beyak, who famously declared ‘some good’ came out of Canada’s residential schools, has been kicked off the Senate’s committee on Aboriginal Peoples.” Conrad Black, in The National Post, went to bat for her. So do I. Never thought I’d find myself on his side of an argument, but then perhaps I am guilty of paying too little attention to unpopular views ­­– or, worse sin, shying from views I find contrary to my own. 
    Beyak’s audacity for saying that in her opinion there were teachers in residential schools who treated students well and students who benefitted from their time there was not going to be tolerated. Similarly, anyone questioning most any aspect of the arguments for global warming or its causes is instantly pilloried. Imagine trying to find money to research the possibility global warming will bring on the next ice age. It has been suggested, with an interesting theory to back it, but don’t look for money to take the theory to the next level.
    A distant cousin who long ago passed away, or maybe died, instructed the executor of her estate to leave a sizeable chunk “to an unpopular cause.” Good for her.
    In the immediate aftermath of the death of dozens of Syrian civilians exposed to nerve gas, Scott Taylor, a syndicated columnist and the editor and publisher of the military magazine Esprit de Corps, was a lone voice questioning the chicken-headed stampede to back Trump’s response. Taylor asks what al-Assad had to gain from launching a gas attack, and comes up with zip. Others ask what Trump had to gain. Deflection from talk about Russian interference in the last U.S. election?  
    Questioning is good. It is healthy. We should consider more what we don’t want to hear or believe about Syria, raw milk, Putin, supply management, forest management, Brexit, residential schools, vaccinations, irradiating food, abortion, the legalization of pot, and agriculture’s growing dependence on imported labour and plastic. 
    A Dalhousie Agriculture student from Somalia is working on a Master’s degree investigating ways to make plastic more biodegradable. That’s a noble pursuit. CBC reported last year on the discovery of an island of waste in the Pacific, much of it plastic, that was more than twice the size of Prince Edward Island. 
    Farm plastic waste is everywhere, and when it is dirty it’s not being re-cycled. Not that there is money in recycling clean plastic. But why make plastic biodegradable? Instead, bury it for future generations to mine. In our landfills bury all plastic – dirty or clean – in one place, glass in another, tin cans and the like in a third. At the rate we are consuming resources, future generations will be thankful we left our garbage for them to exploit with new ideas driven by necessity. 

    I do go on, a regular grouch, while despite tough odds there’s cause to celebrate the spurt in the growth of small farmers serving niche markets. A day like today, after such a miserably cold and windy early spring, instills energy and enthusiasm for digging in the dirt, preparing, and yes, even planting peas and starting more vegetables under one form of shelter or another from kitchen window sill to full-blown greenhouse. 
    One friend reported having tilled his entire garden a week ago. Not here. Soil types and condition vary greatly from one plot to another, let alone one village to the next. I balled a fist of earth from my own garden this afternoon and was nearly able to wring water from it. Way too wet to till, although not too wet to scatter seasoned manure and compost, with special attention to the asparagus patch in anticipation of a bumper crop.
    Best to all our readers, DvL