Hardy to Zone 6

Hardy to Zone 6

Instead of focusing our efforts on how to hunker down and just 'survive' the challenges we know are ahead, can we please have a conversation about how we can prosper and thrive?

By Jason Allen
Published February 16, 2011

I have been reading Eliot Coleman's fantastic Four Season Harvest recently, and his wonderful instructions about how to harvest fresh veggies all year 'round.

It has me thinking quite a bit about the hardiness of various plants, especially in light of Coleman's assertion that with simple protection from the wind and bitterest cold, we can grow many vegetables that are popular in the south of France.

Hardiness is an interesting term in the agricultural world. It speaks not to whether or not a plant will survive in a given climate, but whether or not it will thrive.

That's the discussion I feel we need to be having in Hamilton right now: With all of the changes that are certain to come, how will we escape the bunker mentality that is so prevalent in peak oil/climate change thought? How can we turn our attention to how we can thrive and become a desirable, attractive community in the face of the 'trifecta?'

The first step is, perhaps, to list our assets.

Trade Will Continue

It is widely acknowledged that as fossil fuels increase in price, and decrease in availability, certain forms of transport will quickly trump the current method of loading everything worth moving into Transport trucks.

When it comes to rail and water transportation, Hamilton is almost uniquely suited in Canada in terms of not only access to the largest market in Canada, but relatively easy access to the largest markets in the U.S.

Make no mistake: even if stock indexes take a serious tumble, the price of gas shoots up and all manner of calamaties are made manifest, we will still be trading. We will still be producing goods and services of real value - in fact, if Jeff Rubin is at all correct, we may be producing more of them.

People have been trading between communities in some form or another for the better part of 10,000 years. No matter how bad you think things will get, it is foolish to think that every community will suddenly have to become totally self-sufficient.

So then what can we produce for these markets to which we will have almost uniquely easy access?

Local Production

The first, and most obvious, is food. We live in the heart of one of the greatest agricultural areas in North America, and yet many of the 'local' food manufacturers - Kraft, Smuckers, etc, source virtually all of their raw materials from Mexico or California.

Don't even get me started on the ripping up of Peach Orchards after the biggest cannery in Niagara closed.

Local food, in an era of an unreliable power grid and high transport prices, may not necessarily mean local fresh produce, and we need to start thinking about how we can preserve, can, and otherwise process all of our local produce for consumption over our long, cold winters, and those of our nearest neighbors.

Some producers nearby are doing a great job of this; others are hamstrung by contracts with local grocery stores that demand prices lower than what Canadian labour laws will permit.

Even Mayor Bratina recognizes that food processing is a large, and largely neglected part of Hamilton's economy, and yet the list of tangible wins for helping home grown producers to develop those opportunities is rather short.

City Hall needs to be working closely with local farmers and growers to help them find local processors for their products, to get them into Hamiltonian's cupboards, and not just their crispers.

Critical Infrastructure

Next, Hamilton has an enormous amount of built infrastructure that we need to keep in good repair. The steady decline of our electrical infrastructure and the ongoing problems with waste water and sewage in the East End are glaring examples of what happens when we don't maintain what we have.

It is always important to maintain the infrastructure that supplies the services on which your citizens depend. But to neglect their repair at a time when the cost of repairs could double or triple in the next 10-15 years is worse than irresponsible, it's reckless.

Local Economic Development

Finally, Hamilton's leaders need to stop spending so much of their time and energy on attracting big employers and large factories to our city, who's loyalty expires minutes after the tax breaks are amortized.

The focus of our economic development team needs to be on supporting local companies that produce things people really want and need - and in the process re-skilling our community to be prepared for when those things are no longer available for $1.99 from Thailand.

Retail businesses and consulting firms are all fine and good, but there needs to be a renewed focus on small businesses that are producing tangible goods, and in the process relearning skills that will be vital in the near future.

This focus on the big 'front page' hit of employment opportunities is probably the first thing that needs to change.

Bunker Mentality

I guess it's the comment stream in my last post on Raise the Hammer that set this whole little rant in motion.

The bunker mentality for dealing with the future - how will we survive? - isn't a very big tent, and not many people want to huddle under it. I know that many people think that WTSHTF everybody will come running to them for help, but Millenarians have an atrocious track record of accuracy.

While things will certainly be difficult, the comparison of what is to come with a Zombie invasion is not helpful at best, and alienating at worst.

So instead of focusing our efforts on how to hunker down and just 'survive' the challenges we know are ahead, can we please have a conversation about how we can prosper; how we can thrive; how we can be the best place to live, work, and raise a child? Even in the face of triple digit oil prices?

This article was first published on Jason's website

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.


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By beaslyfireworkstechnican (registered) | Posted February 16, 2011 at 08:57:29

While oil prices are important, I think we should also keep in mind that we're in the middle of a large-scale shift in the global food system: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/02/bre...

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2011 at 11:42:30

what does trucking a tomatoe from California to the local grocery store add to the cost? I wager that it is less than 10%. So if the oil prices actually explode and fuel jumps to triple the current price what does that do for the price? If transportation is actually 10% then the $2 a lb tomatoe would jump all the way to $2.60 assuming that the transport cost is actually 10% (probably lower) and that it is made up entirely of fuel costs and ignoring the labour costs. How high do crude costs need to go before the fuel actually triples? Much higher than anything we have seen or are likely to see in a long long time. I believe this is a much ado about nothing. We may face challenges to our food in the future but the cost of diesel to ship it from California to here is not one of them.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted February 17, 2011 at 11:53:08 in reply to Comment 59851

The price of oil is also only one piece of what I call the 'trifecta' - the other two being sovereign debt default and extreme weather events due to climate change.

And don't think this is only an issue in China, where they're experiencing a 200 yr drought, it's about to hit home at your local Fortino's http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/30... The point is, that while one of these three things in isolation would be easily manageable, the three of them together call for a dramatic, and effective move towards communities being more independant, re-learning important and long-forgotten skills, and thinking seriously about how to position themselves for this future.

Comment edited by JasonAAllen on 2011-02-17 11:55:21

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted February 19, 2011 at 09:23:55 in reply to Comment 59912

I wonder if any of the old tired vacant lots in the city could be transformed into urban gardens. I know that wasn't the point of the article you linked, however it's what it made me think of. I remember listening to Michael Pollan on Bill Moyers a few years ago and he discussed the sense of neighbourhood renewal communities experienced with the urban food plots. Something to think about.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted February 16, 2011 at 13:08:44

This is what is really driving food price increases:

New rules fuel Biox growth plan

Full Disclosure: I worked at BIOX from 2005 to 2008 and we did not separate on the best of terms

Artificial incentives from the government to convert our food supply to our fuel supply are driving up prices at the supermarket checkout. BIOX's primary feedstock for it's process is the lowest grade of fat from rendering plants called Yellowgrease or the slightly higher grade of fat called Whitegrease. This is a good because Yellowgrease is not a foodgrade product, it is usually converted to industrial grade fatty acids and glycerols, therefor using it for fuel does not cause a rise in food prices. What concerns me is that Canada will run into the current practice like the USA where government mandates on alternative fuel content have driven up corn, canola and soybean prices to record levels. This is clearly implied in the article:

The new biodiesel and heating oil rules will especially help canola and soybean farmers, said Ritz, and will make Canada a leader in biofuel research.

Read here what ethanol mandates in the US has done to the corn market in 2007:

a new study has found that ethanol plants could use as much as half of America’s corn crop next year.

There is no natural free market for bio-fuels as of yet. I understand that there will be in the future and government incentives encourage the construction of the infrastructure required to support that future need before it is too late to do so. What we as consumers and taxpayers have to do is make sure that none of our food supply is diverted to achieve this. Biodiesel can be made from waste fats, algae or plants that grow in desert conditions. Ethanol can be made from sources other than corn.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2011 at 15:43:22

We need holistic solutions. There's no use solving our energy problems at the expense of our food supplies, or vice versa.

Lightly managed, small-scale organic waste digestion has come a long way. Experimental bio-reactors, even those built with plastic buckets for youtube videos, are now able to give off methane gas, electric power, heat, fertilizer and clean water, with inputs of dirty water and organic waste. The systems can be tweaked to produce one or another in particular, but so far studies have shown they tend to operate most effectively when doing several.

Such a system would be hard to run on a municipal scale, but not on a household or neighbourhood scale. It could replace nearly every important municipal service - water, power and waste management, along with providing a constant source of high-quality fertilizer and soil. By utilizing this fertilizer to grow more locally (even if it's just being cycled back in as yard waste), we could then replace much of the mass-produced goods we rely on (food, fibers etc). It wouldn't be perfect, but it'd beat the hell out of eating bark, mud, or each other.

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By FTLOG (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2011 at 16:05:22 in reply to Comment 59877

insult spam deleted

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 17, 2011 at 09:34:00

I don't understand a word of this, sorry. Can you try again?

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