Monday, 18 April 2011

Ducks, bulrushes, and cooking from "scratch"..... the key to our survival.

The challenge this week is to live green.  It should be a challenge all the time.  When my son was in Grade 10 one of the class projects was to figure out what the carbon foot print for his family was.  I am very proud to say that our household had the second lowest carbon footprint of all of the 10th grade at his school.  Since that time I have further reduced my footprint by not having a car.
My love of the environment was fostered by (hold on to your hats green-warriors) farmers, my in my family there are hog farmers, dairy and grain farmers, and they all loved nature and tried their best with the information that they had at their disposal at any time to honor the land. You see despite what you might believe if you listened to the rantings of the environmental extremists, most farmers love the land, and their animals.  There is not a more pampered farm animal than the dairy cow.  Happy healthy cows give the best milk. When your livelihood depends on the quality of your product, a dairy farmer with any brains will pamper his cows. When the market place is demanding milk, cheese and red meat, a business man will supply it.
Now to the vegans among us, I do agree that we are the only mammals on the planet who drink milk past the time when our mothers wean us, and I really don't believe that milk is necessary for healthy growth past the time when we humans are taken off the breast. (which usually occurs much too early now a days)   However we humans have been using dairy products for thousands of years....just never in the excessive amounts that we do now.  We are hunters and gatherers by nature, our natural diets consisted of both plants and meat.  The meat however was rally hard to come by, and it was never(except in the arctic) consumed in large amounts. I believe that it is the excess consumption of animal products that is the real problem.  

I don't know when vegetables became a repulsive thing to children, but I believe the main cause of the obesity epidemic in North America, is mainly due to our being too busy to cook, and being too tired at the end of the day to say to our're lucky that there is food on the table, eat it or leave it, but that's all there is.  No child is going to starve when there is food available for them to eat.  I recall vividly eating cold oatmeal for supper, because I had refused it at breakfast and lunch, I knew that I wouldn't be getting anything else till I ate it.  I was not harmed in any way by this.  No one yelled, I was not hit or threatened, there were no tears or tantrums. My parents simply said my often used are lucky to have food on the table, we are giving this to you to eat because it is good healthy food, and you are not going to get anything else till you eat this.  It was a simple calm statement, and I knew that they meant it. This only happened once (per child) and no child was ever harmed by a day of knowing what hunger felt like. In fact, I learned more than one very valuable lesson that day.  Kids need to know that it is a fact that they are not going to love every meal they are served, but they need to eat what is put in front of them and be grateful, and parents need to relearn how to plan a balanced healthy diet, and how to cook it.  Some of my best times with my children was cooking.  I was a single mom, and frequently worked evening shifts, so we didn't always eat together, but we cooked and shopped together.  This started when they were very young, my kids were participating in cooking when they were 4 years old.  It only took one trip to the farmer's market and allowing my son to pick out the fruit and vegetables for the week for him to become excited about trying new fruits and vegetables.  One of my fondest memories is of Drew (age 6) asking the vendor if he had nicer broccoli.....the broccoli that was for sale seemed a little past it's best.  He was a little dynamo  in the market. I would follow behind him with the basket, let him decide what to buy, and laugh at the responses from everyone in the market.  Don't get me wrong he likes his meat, but he always planned for at least a couple of vegetables per meal.

Now back to the farm.  I can only speak with any first hand knowledge to what is happening in Manitoba, but what is happening there is being played out all over the world as far as I can see.

Wet lands in Manitoba are being drained to make more farm land.  This has been happening at an alarming rate for the past 30 years.  At this same time there have been huge hydro electric facilities built all over the north.  The most critical dam in Manitoba to my thinking is the one that keeps the water level unnaturally high in Lake Manitoba.  Thirty years after this dam was built there are horrible potentially lethal algae blooms on the lake. One of this countries most beautiful lakes is being poisoned.  Now this is not all due to the dam, but there used to be a huge marsh where the Red River drains in to the lake. The water has been kept unnaturally high for 30 years, and now the marsh is dead.  No wild life.  This area needs a period of relative dryness for the bulrushes to germinate, and create a suitable habitat for the wildlife.  Simply taking this dam off line for two months of the year would do a lot to reestablish this marsh.  Bulrushes are extraordinarily effective at filtering out toxins. Allowing the natural flow out of Lake Manitoba to occur for a couple of months would facilitate the removal of some of the excessively fertilized water, and the natural movement of marine life, for part of the year. Reestablishing this wet land would contribute so much to the health of the lake, and the surrounding land.

The dam is not the only problem with Lake Manitoba.  There are, as you know from the news many spring floods in Manitoba, especially along the Red River.  This has always been the case, but they are getting worse.  The problem is that the many small marshes and swamps that have always dotted the prairies, have been drained for more farm land.  Now all the water after the spring melt goes directly in to the rivers.  In the past it would be retained for a period of time in the wetlands and there the bulrushes and wetland vegetation could do it's job of cleaning  the water.  Remember that when this land was in it's natural state it safely maintained vast herds of buffalo.  Far more large animals that can be accounted for by farm animals today.   E-coli  in ground water is becoming a huge problem.  The contaminations can usually be traced to farm animals, but if we look one step further into the problem we find that the land no longer has the capacity to turn biological waste into useful natural fertilizer. Yes, cow farts, and manure put off huge amounts of methane, and harbor e-coli but it is only recently that this has been a problem.  It became a problem when we interrupted the earth's natural ability to turn waste into new life. We have to preserve and protect wetlands, they are an essential component in the circle of life.  They are the lungs, the kidneys and the livers of our planet. This is the case in Manitoba, but the destruction of the Mississippi delta has made that part of the world more vulnerable to hurricanes, and other natural, and unnatural disasters. (don't get me started on the oil spill)  This is happening all over the world.

I think that what bothers me the most about what is happening to my beloved Lake Winnipeg is that although the problem is complicated.  The solution is relatively simple.  Take the dam off line for a couple of months a year.  Legislate that every farmer must return a set number of acres of land back to wetland. This would be the starting point for a vast improvement in the health of the land.  Oh yea, and all of us need to start cooking our own food again.  Farming is a supply and demand business.  Farmers would just as soon plant vegetables if the demand is there.  It is a lot cheaper from their viewpoint to grow things than to raise animals. They would also love to sell locally if the markets were there, it would cut down on their costs as well.

Last summer I went with my Mother and siblings to spread my Father's ashes on the land he loved so much.  We drove up to our homestead farm, a place that I had not visited for a very long time. The house and the barn that my Grandfather had built were slowly returning to the land.  They were being swallowed up and returned to nature, not a sad thing, just the mark of time passing.  It was the pasture that pleased me the most though.  I remembered a small corner of the pasture where bulrushes grew, a great place to find frogs, and to watch the wood ducks and canada geese,  but now the entire pasture was swallowed up by wetland.  I could hear all the returning inhabitants of the old pasture croaking and quacking, there were bulrushes as far as I could see, and the old barn would soon be lost to the expanding marsh.  I thought what a wonderful thing.  This small piece of land is being returned to it's natural state. The higher land around the homestead is still farmed, but my family want the original homestead left to nature. My Dad would be pleased.  I'll bet that his spirit is there right now watching the geese return.  

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