RD April Letters 2019

Maul improved
Just finished reading the Jan.-Feb. issue of RD. I always read “Pot Luck” first. I too still split wood by hand (“Pot Luck – The big chill,” pg. 8). I graduated to the Fiskars X27 splitting axe, which is a pleasure to use. Especially for a senior like me. The X27 is 36 inches long and fairly lightweight, and you can swing it with a mighty stroke.

David Kline
Mount Hope, Ohio

Apple scald scold
I was looking at the photo that accompanied the article about the Lutz’s orchard, (“When famously crisp apples go soft,” by Emily Leeson, RD March, pg. 52). The row of apples to the left of the photo (their right) looked as if weed killer had been applied under the trees. I wonder if the use of those sort of poisons could be contributing to their apple troubles? What about a mulch instead? Yum! We all want those apples!

Sylvia Mangalam
Bedford, N.S.  

Local tomatoes in January?
Firstly, I just want to say that I enjoyed your magazine for many years, ever since we moved to N.S. 20 years ago. It is always informative and thought provoking!

I try hard to buy local and support local, as well as applauding our local farmers and business people who keep our rural economy and employment ticking over. However, as farming scales up to industrial proportions and monocultures, are we really benefiting? Certainly it appears our wildlife and the environment does not.

While reading the article in January’s issue about Den Haan greenhouses (“Perfect conditions,” by Emily Leeson, pg.32), I was pleased and proud to see that a young local farming family were being so successful. I live here in the Valley, and occasionally buy their tomatoes, although generally I only eat tomatoes in the summer ... the ones from my garden! However, when I reached the paragraph where they say they only heat with local hardwood from suppliers within an 80-kilometre radius (very commendably supporting local) and using $300,000 to $350,000 worth of logs (per season?), I was brought up short. I don’t know how many acres of woodland have to be cut down to supply that amount, but it has to be a fair few.

For the past two or three years I have noticed many small woodland blocks being razed (and they are only the ones I see as I drive our local roads in the Valley), and it really disturbs me to see such a loss of habitat for the little wildlife that we do have in our area, whether its birds, insects, or foxes. These lands are then levelled and turned into GMO corn or soy bean fields – total wildlife wastelands that need to be sprayed with chemicals, adding insult to injury.

How do we reconcile these two things? I find it very difficult to do so. I want to support my farmer neighbours – they work hard and bring positive things to our communities. I appreciate that people need to be fed, yet I also wish to preserve the environment.

I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do have some suggestions. Why can’t we support our farmers to grow food in a more sustainable manner? The need for fuel is obvious if we want local tomatoes in the winter, heat to kiln-dry locally grown corn and soy, or even to cold-store apples, onions, and carrots to extend the local market season. How about in-ground heat pumps, or solar or wind power? Around here are several large dairy operations. They have a large amount of slurry to deal with, usually storing it in vast tanks until they are able to broadcast it onto fields ... try living here in the spring! Presently, it is doubtful they could find cost-effective solutions for using that waste to create methane for fuel, although the technology has existed for some time. I imagine there are government programs that will fund or loan funds for building new state-of-the-art cattle barns or grain kilns, so why can’t governments switch to funding more sustainable solutions? What is needed is incentives to think outside the box, not preserve the status quo, which is only serving to hurl us further down the road of ecological disaster.

Food waste is another issue that is created by this industrial style of farming. Right behind us is a large field (known locally as the 100-acre field), which two years ago a local producer had planted solely in carrots. By November only a small fraction of those were harvested; the rest were plowed under. Yes, a shocking waste, but unfortunately not a crop that the farmer could justify harvesting to supply the local food bank. To survive as a business and an employer, they have to make a profit! Farmers have been forced into becoming sole-crop, large-volume producers, and as a result need to over-plant in order to ensure they have enough crop to supply their customers. Due to the vagaries of climate, some years mean a bumper crop, and others they can barely get by.

This style of farming also means intensive use of large, expensive machinery using fossil fuels, as well as pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. That field was literally a carrot desert, with no weeds, no insects (including bees), and no other wildlife. I admire these farmers (who are also my neighbours) for their business acumen and their ability to survive in a profession that has become increasingly challenging, and I apologise to them if they feel I am attacking them personally (which I certainly am not), but I do feel that this route encourages ecological disaster, poorer food quality, and increasing food waste. We need to return to more crop diversification, smaller fields, local producing and purchasing, and less food waste!

Sheila Mason
Somerset, N.S.