Tag Archives: farming

It’s a Hutterite Life

2 Jul

When we chose to set up camp in St. Claude, we had no idea what was in store for us. We rolled into town and were just trying to find the campground on the giant map, when a man wearing dress shoes and also riding a bicycle caught up with us. It turned out that he wanted to offer us a place to stay for the night! That’s how we met Robert and Josiane from St. Claude, and through them we met a lot of other amazing people.

Robert is a high school teacher. In the past decade or so, he has been teaching over an interactive television system to students from several Hutterite colonies. There are actually several hundreds of such colonies in Canada and we probably passed some, but as Robert wisely says, if you aren’t looking for it you won’t see it. Who are the Hutterites? We were able to see for ourselves.

Hutterites live communally: they share work and money, and they eat and pray together. The colony sustains its members spiritually and physically. In addition, Hutterites often help surrounding communities: for example, some are trained in first aid and emergency response, and will often be the first ones on a scene of emergency. It was really interesting to see the benefits and challenges of this radically different way of life.

Robert took us to two different colonies, where we saw the eating area, kitchen, chapel, school, some new homes under constuction, and a car repair shop. A common misconception about the Hutterites is that they shun new technologies. On the contrary: they have pretty much the latest and greatest in farming machinery, computers, industrial-grade ovens and breadmakers, fridges, washing machines… everything they need. Some members are talented carpenters, electricians, or general do-it-yourselfers, and everything is done in-house. And we mean everything: from repairing electrical appliances to building entire houses, complete with cabinets, electricity, and plumbing — all top notch quality. (Anya had never seen such a clean car repair workshop in her life! And working in construction she has seen more than a few.)

Hutterites have a lot of opportunities for learning various skills and trades, and sampling a wide variety of jobs. Rotating responsibilities and sharing the work assignments is encouraged. In the colonies we visited, everyone can complete high school, and beyond that there are opportunities for becoming certified in various trades. Sometimes, they will send a member of the colony to earn a university degree. As for work, they get their first small jobs at 15 (adulthood) and can move around between working in the field, building constuction, helping in the machine shop, or at the school. They can really find the work that fits, and if they prove themselves to be trustworthy, can take on greater responsibilities.

While no one on a Hutterite colony has any personal funds, there is money for exchanging goods with the outside world. Hutterites are shrewd businessmen: once the needs of the colony have been met, all surplus goods can be sold. One can often see them selling produce at farmers’ markets. Each colony may specialize in its own area. Some colonies have a big production of grain feed, henhouses, or pig and cattle farms — just a few examples.

In this form of society there are no medical bills that can’t be paid, no unemployment, no mortgages, no hunger and no homelessness. Changing careers is easy, and education doesn’t cost anything. Want to be a Hutterite? Sorry, they do not usually accept new members: you must be born into the colony.

As if that were not enough information for one day, Robert also took us on a tour of St. Claude’s dairy museum, where we got our brains wired with more interesting stuff:

And also a tour of the highway ditch to get us acquainted with the local flora:

These are lady slippers, which are wild orchids that are sometimes dug up to be transplanted to a garden, but the survival rate is low. That’s why no one will tell you where to find them! (Unless you are on a bicycle and certainly aren’t going to take one away.)

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Farming in the Wind

21 Jun

According to statistics, about half of Canada’s farmland is in Saskatchewan.  Sure enough, most towns along the railway have a grain elevator.

Through Couchsurfing, we had the opportunity to stay with Henry and Vivian, who live on a farm. They grow most of their food on a tennis court sized piece of land: potatoes, rhubarb, gooseberries, cilantro, squash, onions, and lots more. When they visit their children in the city, they are surprised at each other’s grocery bills. Henry and Vivian eat mostly what they grow; their kids might pay as much in a day as they do in a month.

Henry took us to see the lake near their property. The lake is home to many birds, first and foremost to Saskatchewan’s provincial bird, the mosquito. However there are also pelicans, gulls, curlews, blackbirds, and more. Henry and Vivian are surrounded by lovely scenery: “On a long weekend, people will rush to a park for camping, but we have the best camping in the world right here,” Henry says. Judge for yourself:

 

From the lake, you can see a big wind farm, Centennial Wind Power Facility. There are about 80 wind turbines on that farm and each turbine can power a town the size of Swift Current. We asked Henry why there aren’t more of them, and he said another one of even bigger capacity is planned to be built nearby, in Chaplin. With the amount of wind in the flat lands, it is really a no brainer for Saskatchewan. Check out this windstorm that we were lucky enough to sit out in a cafe:

Peace, Love, and Co-ops

1 Jun

Bonanza! Day 10 was hard. After cycling up a 1535m pass, we found out the campground where we were planning to stay at was closed because of a problem grizzly bear. So we put in an extra 25km (okay, downhill) averaging 45km/h. Did you know? Grizzlies can actually run at speeds exceeding 50km/h!

On Day 11 we took it easy and cycled 50km to Nelson. By that point our bikes had survived 800+km, including 100+km on the KVR trail, so we took them to the bike shop. The bikes got a thorough inspection by Blair and we were warmly welcomed with locally brewed beer. The people at the shop were interested to hear about our project. Mark, a mechanic at the shop, had a sustainability story to share: since he moved to Nelson 4 years ago, he’s worked on reviving the three overgrown fruit trees in his yard. Last year was the first year they gave fruit. This year, his goal is to be self-sufficient and grow all his own fruits and greens. Way to go!

We were hosted by Anya’s extended MSLS family: Alison, Steven, and Elliot. We talked about Nelson’s focus on community and local economy.The municipality of Nelson, Alison told us, has a strict no billboard policy, which is why you can’t even find the Walmart in town. As for the McDonalds, there isn’t one, because the town didn’t allow one to be built. With that kind of support for local commerce from the municipality, it’s no surprise that Nelson is home to so many successful co-ops and small businesses.

As mentioned in our previous post, Nancy of Grand Forks told us about the Kootenay Food Co-op and gave us contact information. We were able to arrange a conversation with Jocelyn, who is currently the Co-op’s marketing manager.

The Co-op is amazing. It has been around for 37 years and has more than 10,000 members (population of Nelson – 20,000). They have everything in bulk – grains, tea, herbs, oil, shampoo, detergent, and more. A buzzing community hub, the Co-op hosts overwhelmingly popular cooking classes that sell out within 3 days of being announced. They also promote local production by mentoring, supporting, and encouraging local residents to start up their own food businesses.

Jocelyn is very knowledgeable and shared a lot of great ideas with us — so many that we can’t possibly cover them all in this entry. We recorded the conversation on video, so watch our movie when it comes out. For now, here’s a sample.

One thing we talked about are the difficulties of running a small, local farm. Large corporations lobby to lower the organic certification standards so that they are able to carry “organic” products, lowering the cost at the expense of food quality. In contrast, the food co-op preferentially purchases higher-quality, local food, and pays the farmers a fair price, while bringing affordable and top-notch produce to the co-op members. To actually be able to give a fair price to both farmer and consumer is an immense challenge that the co-op tackles daily.

Grand Forks, Spoons, and Knives

30 May

All right, get ready, make sure you don’t read this on an empty stomach, lots of food talk coming up.

In Rock Creek we met Dwight, who is cycling to Ontario. We kept running into him along the way, like at this little shack – OK Fruit and Dale’s Honey shop:

We bought delicious honey, orange honey marmalade, and chokecherry jam for very cheap. Dale was nowhere to be seen so after searching for a money box for a while, we finally deposited the money in a little ceramic container. Hope you find it, Dale!

Dwight was really excited to see the little shop. He told us how years ago, he was a vegan and animal rights activist, but since moving to the Cowichan on Vancouver Island he has given it up. There, he had a choice: to buy processed, GMO soy products from overseas, or to go across the street and buy meat, dairy, or fruit and vegetables from his neighbours. He now prefers to buy from people he knows, but that means, he’s not vegan and not even vegetarian.

In Grand Forks we couchsurfed with Nancy, who works at the Kettle Valley Food Co-op. The co-op is just starting up: after two years they have 160 members (of 4000 people living in Grand Forks), and Nancy is their first paid employee. The co-op links the farmer directly to the consumer, promoting the local economy and providing its members with the opportunity to buy locally grown and produced food.

Nancy not only works for the co-op, but also fully supports it. Her fridge is packed with amazingly tasty local products (aren’t we the luckiest guests?!). She is also very conscious about buying organic, which is much easier when you know your farmers as many of them grow organic foods and veggies, but are not certified because the certification is quite expensive.

The co-op is still establishing itself: they are working to get more members and vendors. As the co-op grows, Nancy believes it will encourage local farmers to grow crops year-round, and to develop a market for unique local products such as Haskap berries. Grand Forks, says Nancy, is a fertile area with a lot of potential; historically it’s been much more productive. The co-op will help to bring that back.

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