Monday, December 31, 2012

Always Learning: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture

Hello Everyone, on the last day of 2012!  

I hope you are well and that the coming year will be a happy one and you and your family and friends have good health.

I'm not going to put in writing any resolutions. However ... I did run across something recently that I'll try to make my way through. (I've already listened to the first two parts.)

You can imagine how easily this blurb caught my attention!

“As the costs of our industrialized food system—to the environment, public health, farmers and food workers, and to our social life—become impossible to ignore, a national debate over the future of food and farming has begun. Telling stories about where food comes from, how it is produced—and how it might be produced differently—plays a critical role in bringing attention to the issue and shifting politics. Each week, a prominent figure in the debate explores: What can be done to make the food system healthier, more equitable, more sustainable? What is the role of storytelling in the process?”

Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture is a Fall 2012 course which took place at  UC Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism and College of Letters and Science. The course was  moderated by Michael Pollan, a Knight Journalism Professor at UC Berkeley and author of books about the food system. All 15 lectures are available online!  Free!
The "telling stories" part of this particularly appeals to me.  I know profoundly that everyone not only has a story to tell, but needs places to tell their stories ... whether those stories are detailed accounts of particular types of gardens or food activism, or a short funny story about meeting a dog while walking through the park and having it lean its warm body into your legs.
If you follow up on any of the lectures, I hope you enjoy them.  Write a comment to me!  
I hope we all have great stories ahead in 2013. Actually, I'm sure we do!

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Recorded Lectures:
Eating Oil, Eating Sunshine, By Michael Pollan
Social Practice, By Peter Sellars
The Psychology Of Food, By Paul Rozin
The Farm Bill, By Chellie Pingree, Dan Imhoff, And Ken Cook
Documenting Food Stories, By The Kitchen Sisters
On The Farm, By Bob Cannard
A Bee’s Eye View, By Claire Kremen
The Politics And Economics Of Meat, By Mike Callicrate And Bob Martin
Farming As Dance –The Choreography Of Polyculture, By Joel Salatin
On Cooking, By Jerome Waag, Samin Nosrat, Charlie Hallowell, And Harold Mcgee
Food Movement Rising, By Michael Pollan
Food, Race, And Labor, By Nikki Henderson And Saru Jayaraman
The Green Revolution, By Raj Patel
Edible Education, By Alice Waters
Food Marketing And Childhood Obesity, By Kelly Brownell

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Let us not "forfeit the power of the question"

Good morning,

I hope you are well and have had a low stress Christmas (as much as is possible!)

A couple of weeks ago - for the most part - I stopped listening beyond headlines to news on the t.v., radio, or in print.  It was just easier to cope.  I needed a rest from the relentless focus on just a few situations ... while there was a complete lack of major media covering anything hopeful during what is supposed to be a season of goodwill and hope.

I think I'd been feeling particularly unable to be helpful or hopeful ... and media negativity made those feelings stronger.

The funny thing is that, while feeling negative, I worked and did household stuff, lent an ear to several friends, helped one with quite a few errands, continued to post notices on the website I maintain for Community Gardens London (, answered two inquiries about community garden  policy, and followed enough City political goings-on to send in comment about several planning issues.

So there I'd been, doing all sorts of stuff, and feeling like I'd not done enough and full of questions that generally start "Why is it that...?"

Checking today's London Free Press online, I happened to read a column I don't usually read and found this statement:
"The person who carts answers around, eager to dispense them at a moment's notice, forfeits the power of the question."
              Rev. (retired) Robert Ripley, United Church of Canada

I really like this phrase. Even though I don't even know exactly what it means! 

I think what it means is that as long as we are asking questions, and looking around to find answers - especially asking our questions of other people - there are chances that we will see the many things that go into an answer ... or, rather, find that there are many parts to an answer.  From there, there are many paths to solutions and many possibilities for including other people in the path and the future. 

Just the idea that there is power in questions appeals to me.

The possibility that more questions leads to more possibilities for solutions has me feeling better.

It looks like I remain ... and as always wishing you well!

Why's Woman

p.s.  Reverend Ripley's entire article includes comment on several aspects of the quotation, including that it is far too simple - and is wrong - to excuse horrific, violent actions by saying things like God "wanted" the children (who died at the hands of a crazy gunman).  That's my interpretation.  Ripley's entire article is at (

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cynicism - what the heck is going on? Things could be better.

"As for being cynical, I'd be proud of that: the cynics are always the greatest optimists - they see things as they COULD be, then they see things as they ARE, and they wonder 'what the heck is going on around here?' Hence, cynicism." 
                    Patrick Maloney, London Free Press political reporter, London Ontario

Hi everyone,

Hope you are well.

The above was part of a bit of correspondence I had recently with a local reporter who is keeping in the public eye the bad behaviour of some of London Ontario's city councillors. 

The councillors do not get along, at all.  Council is split along lines of urban-sprawl-and-development-reigns versus common sense and listening to what citizens in their neighbourhoods want.  They yell at each other at meetings.  They are beyond rude to each other.  If they were in kindergarden, half of them would be on "time outs" at any given time ... heck, there'd be parent-teacher meetings and child psychologists working with each of them.. Oh, and we have a mayor who is involved with (what may turn out to be) shady businesses and who has had some criminal charges laid against him ... and he's not going to step down until things are sorted out. (I wonder if London's chief financial officer would be coming in to work if he'd had charges laid against him by the tax office? Or if the mayor would want his grandchildren in a class where the teacher had been charged with, well, anything.)  

I like Maloney's explanation of cynicism.  

I certainly wonder what the heck is going on at City Hall these days, and wonder what the heck is going on with climate change talks, international take-overs of local resources, employment rates, seed manipulation, toxins in air, water and soil, dumbing down of just about everything, violence (the recent massacre of children in Connecticut), too much advertising, ... there are too many "what the hecks" to list.

And I know things could be different. People are capable of being compassionate and kind with each other, of making practical decision that are good for everyone involved, of sharing.  Just watch how this Christmas the last calls to local Sally Anns and food banks will meet the needs.

So why aren't we moving forward on the coulds?  

I don't have a definite, short answer.  Wish I did.  Sorry.

What I can give, right now, however, is mention that I just read a good interview with Vandana Shiva in Yes! Manazine.  I particularly loved this line:

The forest teaches us enoughness: as a principle of equity, how to enjoy the gifts of nature without exploitation and accumulation.

Yes! has in its description that it "reframes the biggest problems of our time in terms of their solutions ... [outlining] ... "a path forward with in-depth analysis, tools for citizen engagement, and stories about real people working for a better world."  A print edition is available by subscription, and some articles are available free on the website.

A good read to give a good example of  "could be" is worth a lot.

I hope you have your own examples, or have a few minutes to follow these.

... and thanks Patrick!

Very best regards, as always!

Why's Woman


Vandana Shiva: Evernything I need to know I learned in the forest.

Yes! magazine: 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ten Thousand Villages - Living Gifts

Good morning everyone!

I hope you are well. 

Yesterday afternoon I was in London's Ten Thousand Villages store, had a great conversation with Tania, the manager. 

Ten Thousand Villages stores are a Fair Trade organization, selling hand-crafted items and food items made 'round the world.  TTV is a non-profit, fund-raising arm of the Mennonite Central Committee, a reputable, long-standing international assistance organization. Revenues from the TTV stores are ploughed right back into programs ... and since some are agricultural programs, plough is pun intended :-)

All year 'round, one can donate to MCC projects - give gifts of hope, peace, and food sovereignty.  At this time of year, special Living Gifts come right into the Ten Thousand Villages stores.  You get a card describing the gift and project being supported.  TTV can even arrange to send it on to someone for you. "Gifting" made simple and kind.

The selection of Living Gifts is described fully at:  

Highlights of the Living Gifts:
A Training program -  Creativity and technical skills unleashed!  This $35.00 gift sends one woman in Mymensingh, Bangladesh to a course where she learns about textiles' qualities and how to design fabrics.  Part of what happens in this town is that the materials for the textiles are grown right nearby, so supporting design training reinforced the agriculture!

In Haiti, a reforestation project is planting fruit trees in its tree mix, acknowledging the importance of healthy, local food alongside the land regeneration importance of trees.  Only $20.00 to purchase a tree.

In Ethiopia, sheep are a natural part of agriculture and local industry... sheep for fleece, fiber and clothing ... and of course their manure is part of soil health.  Give a sheep for $57.00 and help maintain the cycle of agriculture and production.

You can even "Fill a Farmyard" for $300.00.  This provides healthy stock for breeding more and for all the products: meat, milk, eggs, leathers, textiles.

There are two education gifts, which support 50 community-based education programs.  
$24 school supplies - Provide school uniforms and supplies to a child, giving them access to education.
$300 give education - Sponsor a Global Family program for one full year.

Education and training of one family member, or any one small enterprise run by a family, has its effects on the neighbourhood, and into the wider community. 

Just like your own creativity and care help in your community, you can help in another's community.

If you are wondering why I'm writing this post, it's because of my most worn cookbook - The More With Less Cookbook by the late Doris Janzen Longacre - which was the first cookbook published by the Mennonite Central Committee

If you were cooking in the late 1970s and early 1980s you probably have a copy.  It's been updated and had anniversary editions, and the The Mennonite Central Committee has published other great cookbooks over the years.  They all emphasize good food, health, care and social justice through frugal recipes and common sense.

More With Less was my kindergarten.  You know, as in "all I ever needed to know about ... I learned in kindergarten".  From The More With Less Cookbook I learned that recipes have stories and people alongside them, that sharing makes you feel good, that you don't have to have a lot of money to be generous, and that simple, healthy food nourishes your body and heals your mind and soul.

And here comes the pitch: check out your local Ten Thousand Villages store, or the website, or the projects of the Mennonite Central Committee.  The links are just below.  And as your budget allows, please consider a gift to match the interests of a friend or family member.

Best regards, as always!

Why's Woman

Ten Thousand Villages -630 Richmond Street, London, Ontario - ph. 519-433-0977
               ** they have beautiful, hand-crafted crĂȘches!! **
Mennonite Central Committee, Canada -

Friday, November 23, 2012


I hope you are all well.

Here in London, Ontario, we've been having issues with a city council where councillors don't get along, and a raft of other problems with the mayor.  I won't take your time with details. 

A former city council member, Gina Barber, writes a blog titled London Civic Watch and her wisdom on civic issues is always worth reading.  Her post today speaks to the juridical meaning of that often-used term "innocent until proven guilty" and to the importance of integrity in elected officials and people in power generally.  I hope this gets you thinking.

Best regards, as always,

Why's Woman

Friday, November 23, 2012                            London Civic Watch

The presumption of innocence
Watching the press conference unfold yesterday, I was glad I had chosen to do my viewing from the comfort of my own home. Those who crammed into the office of Gord Cudmore where it was being held on Fullarton Street looked pretty steamed even before the mayor spoke.

And no wonder. The room was packed with reporters, some perspiring heavily. The owner of the building must have received a density bonus, so high was the concentration of the fourth estate.

It was, after all, a momentous occasion, the mayor speaking out for the first time since retaining a lawyer and since being charged with three criminal offences: breach of public trust, uttering a forged document, and fraud under $5,000.

I had predicted correctly that Fontana would hold firm and not step aside despite the severity of the charges. But I was surprised to hear him say clearly and several times at that, that he was innocent of all the charges.

It had been a more than a month since the allegations had surfaced and the RCMP investigation undertaken. Not once during that time did he make such an unequivocal statement; the best he had been able to come up with previously was that he believed all transactions would be found to be proper and that his records showed that a payment had been made from his personal account to the Marconi Club during the relevant time frame. Never once did he say “I paid the bill.”

But now, only a day after the RCMP laid the charges, he and his lawyer were adamant that the Fontana family had paid the bill for the wedding reception for his stepson and that Fontana himself was innocent and accordingly would plead not guilty upon his first court appearance in January.

So what had changed? Why innocent now and not a month ago? Did being charged jolt his memory? And just when did the payment for the reception occur? And to whom was the payment made?

These are all questions awaiting answers, which may not come for some time. Noting that matters proceed slowly through the courts, Cudmore, Fontana’s lawyer, estimated that it could take a year or so. In other words, about in time for the next election but not much before. Cudmore also hinted at the argument that the defence might use when the time came. 

It was his understanding, he said, that the RCMP had documentation that the Fontana family had paid the outstanding balance of $20,000 or so. He hadn’t seen the evidence; it was just his understanding. So all that was in dispute was the $1,700 for the “room deposit” and it seems that there had been a number of government-related events at the Marconi Club that year. So maybe, he implied, it was all just a little mix up.
But he wanted these matters dealt with in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion. He wanted the presumption of innocence as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It sounded very noble.

Some people have taken that mantra to defend Fontana. He should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

True enough. But the presumption of innocence is not what guides either police investigations or the holding of public office. As someone facing criminal charges, the mayor was required to step down from his position on the Police Services Board. But not from being the budget chief in charge of a billion dollar budget. 

Any teacher facing assault charges would be removed from her classroom until the allegations were resolved. 

A bank employee charged with fraud would not be left in charge of client accounts. 

A city hall employee alleged to have interfered with a government investigation found herself unceremoniously escorted out the door.

Were these violations of the presumption of innocence?

The presumption of innocence is a guideline for how matters should be dealt with by the courts; it is not a recipe for daily action in public or private life. If your daughter or son were romantically involved with someone facing criminal charges, would you give them your blessing because you presumed innocence?

The presumption of innocence means there are rules for disclosure of evidence and the questioning of witnesses. It governs what evidence is or isn’t admissible according to strict guidelines. It requires that the finding of guilt must be based on more than just likelihood; it should be established beyond a reasonable doubt.

The concerns that Londoners have about their mayor is not whether he is guilty of wrongdoing within a narrow definition of criminal offences, but whether he is acting in an ethical manner publicly and privately. Can they trust him to put the needs of the city and its residents ahead of his own and his friends' and family’s interests?

So it’s not just the $1,700 or even $20,000. It’s the millions of dollars that have been taken from taxpayers to give hefty receipts to “donors” to his private charity. It’s working with and for individuals who have engaged in shady business practices. It’s being involved in enterprises that leave investors wondering where their money went. It’s stacking committees and interpreting rules to produce the outcome that favours a few at the expenses of the many. It's giving tax breaks now to be paid by our children later.

How is the public to deal with those concerns and those questions? 

The Municipal Act is ill-equipped to deal with incompetent or unethical representatives and conflict of interest is very narrowly defined. The one tool that municipalities have been given is the right to retain an integrity commissioner, but only a few weeks ago a majority of council, led by the mayor, turned down that option. Had such a person been available to council, s/he would not have been able to force the mayor to step aside, but there could at least have been an investigation and a report for the public and its representatives. Citizens could have had a voice.

The one thing this council has done repeatedly is to overturn previous decisions of council. Even its own decisions. A new council year is about to begin.

Perhaps this next year will be the year that a few more council members begin to appreciate the importance of integrity. Perhaps an integrity commissioner will be welcome.

Integrity looks good on campaign literature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Permaculture, Christmas Trees and Gratitude at American Thanksgiving

Hello everyone!

I hope this day finds you well.  Enjoying the sunshine and mild temperatures if you are in Southwestern Ontario (my vicinity).  I'm resisting planting more tulip bulbs.

Got an email this evening from Wildcraft Permaculture.  I happen to know its founder, Jessica Roder Robertson.  I like her.  She's smart, and straightforward and certainly doing her share to renew the Earth through her work ... and she and her husband have a new baby who won't be quite 4 months old this first Christmas.  Wow! That something to celebrate!  Well, Jessie's newsletter had a wonderful idea: to pick a favorite tree in a park nearby and do a bit of decorating of it "for the birds" - an edible Christmas tree!  And on the date of your choosing - whether that be Christmas December 25th or Solstice on December 21 or another day ... go visit that tree with family and friends and have a picnic, or raise a toast, or sing a song for the tree and each other, or just close your eyes together and be silent.  I love that idea.  There's something deep and important in that that I've been missing. Thanks Jessie!

And if you, dear reader, are interested in learning about permaculture or having a consultation about your own grounds or having work done, please visit Jessie's website, and learn about Wildcraft Permaculture's services.

This is not a commercial.  This is a moment of gratitude.  Quite coincidentally on the eve of American Thanksgiving, I've found several things to be thankful for.

Best regards, and thanks to all of you,

Why's Woman

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Plaid Friday! Shop Local! Create creativity!

Good morning.  How are you today?

I just read about something that is fun and sensible and small scale: Plaid Friday.

With the Plaid Friday idea, local U.S. businesses are encouraged to develop their own innovative shop local campaigns to counter the the Black Friday shopper madness that happens in the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving.

Plaid Friday seems to have been thought up by Kerri, who lives in California.  Hurray Kerri!

Plaid Friday is a shopping day campaign that encourages local, independent, innovative businesses to promote themselves and encourages people to shop local and thereby support their own community.

Plaid Friday does apply here in Canada!  Have you been reading the news items that promote sales that will be happening at big retailers here on that U.S. Black Friday?  The big retailers say they are trying to keep business here in Canada.  The thing is, how many of those big retailers are U.S. based/owned?  I bet a lot of them are.

Please think about keeping some of your regular and Christmas shopping to a small scale, from local sellers, and of items that are made by people you might actually meet one day.  Encourage the handmade, the craft, the talent.

Yeah, I know I'm getting speachy!  Better quit here.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Oh!  As happens, I ran across this Plaid Friday idea on Jenna Woginrich's Cold Antler Farm site. Jenna recounts her full experience developing her small farm.  She's always worth a read.  Thanks Jenna!   

Cold Antler Farm site:
Plaid Friday website:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sustainable Food Systems Report

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all well.  We're past the time change, and I hope your cats and dogs are just about adjusted to the new dinner times!

I've just been reading the Local Food Systems report, commissioned by the London Training Centre, here in London, Ontario.  Authors Roxanna Roshon, Tom Schell, and Angelica Nef have done an awesome job of bringing together a huge amount of information to do with the current and potential resources and ideas that can make our food systems more local and sustainable, and will provide jobs!

A browse of the Toolkit section is joyous!  Section after section of good examples!  Who is helping new farmers get started? What projects are using "alternative value transaction" models (barters and local currency) successfully? Where are there small abattoirs and local egg grading stations? Where are there community kitchens doing small batch preserving for local sales?  Check out the toolkit.  The individual sections online have active links to all the places.  And there's a long resource list at the end of all the places mentioned.

In this time of negative media, bad news reporting all the time, it's wonderful to read mention of project after project that are doing something good.  And feeding people!

As Pam Warhurst says in her Incredible Edible Todmorden TED talk "If you eat, you're in."  We all eat.  We all benefit from this report.  (see October 19 post)
The Local Food Systems report is printable, in sections, and can be reached at

I'm looking forward to hearing a presentation on the report at the London Community Foundation's local food conference this Friday.  There are going to be a lot of interesting presentations, and people there. I'll report back!

Just skip over to Community Gardens London for more info on that and on other events and news that has to do with shared gardens and urban agriculture.  CGL is linked into the Local Food Systems report under Community Gardens.  We are proud and grateful for this mention.

Best regards!

Why's Woman

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: good reason to be anxious

Hello everyone,

We're still having rain, but the tarp remained on the breakfast nook roof and no water got in as London, Ontario felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy.  We were really lucky to be on the outskirts of its effects.  Even places as close to London as Toronto and Wingham had far more rain and wind than we had. 

Actually, I spent three days in absolute anxiety prior to the storm touching the U.S. coast.  My husband suspects that the media/societal anxiety generated by days of news coverage and frequent conversations with people who only talked about the upcoming weather had more effect on me than the storm itself.  I am subject to what I'll call energy shifts.  Whatever meteorological energy was going on prior to and during the storm was, for me, stronger because of all the stressed people around.

A couple of my favorite authors are based in New York, in the heart of the flood zone, so I paid attention to Sandy's path.  During the last years, I've also seen computer generated climate models - those tidy animations with the building outlines and rising water levels.  The thing is, of course, these are based in reality of absolute disaster and mess.  I've got an apocalyptic imagination, and I'm a fan of Harry Harrison's book Make Room, Make Room! about a "future" New York (1999) of 40 million people, crammed in with limited access to food and water.  The movie Soylent Green was made from the book.  There are some differences in plot, but both are worth looking at. 

Oh yes, and there's a made for tv movie, Flood ( with David Suchet as deputy prime minister of England, having to make the decisions about what to do when the Thames River Barrier flood gates lock and the perfect storm of high tide and storm surge bear down on the estuary and London, England.  For all the made for t.v. drama, this sort of thing could be too easily real. 

This does leads into climate change and urban agriculture ... which is what I'd meant to write about when I sat down! 

But I have to run up and down stairs a bit.


Why's Woman

Monday, October 29, 2012

Science and Citizen Activism

Good morning. 

I was just reading some pages from the activist guidebook that accompanies the Living Downstream film (

I had to copy down Sandra Steingraber's observations about people, activism, science and hope.

"The first observation is that science and citizen activism can work hand in hand. ... 

"... second ... most people are intensely curious about the ecology of their own community - especially if they perceive that its integrity is threatened. ...

"... third ...what too often dampens all this cooperation and natural curiosity is a paralyzing blanket of fatalism.  Fearful of despair, many people decide to not investigate environmental contaminants.  They have convinced themselves that these problems are intractable and unsolvable, so why learn about them?  That attitude runs counter to the fighting spirit that cancer patients bring to their medical lives.  Instead of defeatism, why not bring that same bravery and hopeful determination to the circumstances of our environmental lives?

"When caring for the critically injured, emergency responders are trained to say, 'I'm not giving up on you'. That's the same message an Ethiopian farmer encouraged me to carry back to the place where I grew up.   Surely it's a phrase that applies to all the communities where we live.  Our fish.  Our rivers.  Our homes."

Steingraber's work focuses on environmental contaminants and links to cancer and other health problems. 

Her three observations seem to me to apply to a wide range of citizen activism.

1.  Science and citizen activism can work hand in hand.
e.g. The science of interactions between plants and soil organisms shows that having a planted area with many types of plants that decompose in place, retains moisture in the soil, increases nutrients in the soil which feeds and strengthens plants, and develops soil that is able to take in moisture.  Citizen activists wanting to maintain green space in a new housing development can look to this science.

2.  Most people are intensely interested in the ecology of their own community.
e.g. Community walks are invariably popular, whether they are tours of heritage buildings or nature walks through environmentally significant areas.  If the groups that lead such tours plan into their presentation direct ways for walkers to communicate with city planners afterward, how many more citizen activists might there be?  This action could be as simple as having people fill out a postcard size comment that will go to a city committee.

3.  We need to find ways to face, handle and move beyond despair and fatalism.
e.g.  Not having the morning clock radio come on to news would go a long way towards this!  Serious stuff before we even get out of bed in the morning is paralyzing!  I'll think more on this one.  But it involves one step at a time, joining with other people, and having some fun along the way.

We're all waiting for wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy.  Let's keep our fingers crossed for places like low-lying New York state coastal areas. 

Best regards. 

Why's Woman

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber - "Go Talk to Your Fish"

Hello.  I hope you are well.

Back in September, I wrote about Sandra Steingraber's article The Fracking of Rachel Carson.  Steingraber is an ecologist, writer, and film collaborator.

She's just now in Canada, touring with the Chandra Chavanesse, the Toronto-based producer of Living Downstream, the film adaptation of Steingraber's book of the same name.  They were interviewed by Karen Gordon this morning on CBC radio's Fresh Air show (

I hadn't realized that there was a second edition of the book Living Downstream, with updated technical/scientific material.  Basically, it's more proof that there are a lot of toxic materials getting into our water (as well as our air and soil) and they are making us sick.

The website for the film ( actually makes available a comprehensive guide to activists, teachers and interested others ... how to talk to people about the ideas in the film, how to get active in your community and beyond.  To have such a resource is brilliant! 

In the forward to this guide Steingraber writes about a trip to East Africa she made while in her 20s, several years after her own bout with bladder cancer.  She met an Ethiopian man whose village had had to move because the army had wrecked the road upstream and all the fish had died.  He asked her about the fish in her own home rivers and she realized she'd never been able to eat any because the water quality had been bad all her life. 

"You must go home, too, and confront the ones poisoning your river.  Go talk to your fish."

His words surely helped set Steingraber's path in life, which has included the book and the film Living Downstream.  "The very words living downstream are intended as a statement of gratitude to that anonymous Ethiopian farmer who first encouraged me to go home and confront sources of pollution in my own community,"  Steingraber says.

Copies of the first edition of Steingraber's book are in the King's University College, Weldon, and Central Libraries.  The film is available at King's.  I'll try to get there soon.

We can all check out the film trailer at

What person or circumstance affected you on your journey to heal the world, or your neighbourhood?

Very best regards,

Why's Woman

Friday, October 19, 2012

Incredible Edible Todmorden

Hi again,

I guess I hadn't posted this!  This is a great talk.  Warhurst is funny and straightforward and inspiring!
Why's Woman

"We came up with a really simple game plan that we put to a public m... We did not consult. We did not write a report" ...      

Incredible Edible Todmorden (UK) is about practical community change, based in our common language of FOOD. Pam Warhurst, founder of Incredible Edible Todmorden gave a "TED Talk" back in May.

Warhurst's voice and enthusiasm just shine. The projects are, in her words, "focused around three plates: a community plate, the way we live our everyday lives; a learning plate, what we teach our kids in school and what new skills we share amongst ourselves; and business, what we do with the pound in our pocket and which businesses we choose to support."

Incredible Edible Todmorden is nothing short of an incredible project that began about 5 years ago in Todmorden, UK.  It is getting things growing all around the market town of Todmorden (pop'n 15,000), and its ideas are being taken up by and inspiring people in communities around the UK and in other countries.

And there's a transcript on the site too!

Edible City: Grow the Revolution

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all well.

Shadow cat has taken over my office chair, so I watched the entire Edible City: Grow the Revolution video standing up and doing stretches.  Take that as showing how interesting it is!  Full of ideas, interesting things to see in the locales.

A link to the entire movie is on an October 17/12 entry on City Farmer:

By Andrew Hasse and Carl Grether
Director and Producers of Edible City

The blurb: Edible City is a fun, fast-paced journey through the Local Good Food movement that’s taking root in the San Francisco Bay Area, across the nation and around the world.Introducing a diverse cast of extraordinary and eccentric characters who are challenging the paradigm of our broken food system, Edible City digs into their unique perspectives and transformative work, finding hopeful solutions to monumental problems. Edible City - movie website:

This is to be watched several times!  Michael Dimeck, of a group called Roots of Change said something that particularly caught my attention.  He said that if the local [self-sufficient, organic] food movement is going to be a movement [and have an effect on communities and policy] it has to develop language and be able to speak its ideas to different communities.  I figure he's including politicians as a community, and the big agriculture advocates.  That's going to be hard ... it's hard to find the place to begin a conversation with  people you figure going in won't agree with you, or want to talk to you.

I guess we'll have to start with Pam Warhurst' idea "If you eat, you're in" that she speaks in the Incredible Edible Todmorden TED talk.

Well, just a quick post.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bill McKibben on Global Warming and some notes on summer drought

Hi everyone,

Hope you are all well.

I just looked at this great 12 minute video of Bill McKibben talking about global warming - and making some great come-backs to some absolutely standard climate denial comments.  He's on a U.S. tv show - Bill Mayer - which I guess is watched by a lot of people, but I don't have cable.

On the video, McKibben mentions that temperatures for the last 329 months in a row worldwide have been higher than the averages of the previous century.  We in London and Southwestern Ontario had high temperatures and drought for most of the summer.  Drought had detrimental effects on some crops, and that followed the weird weather switch we had earlier in the year ... the too high temperatures in March followed by April normals with freezing, that knocked out 80% of Ontario's apple crop, and probably equally high percentages of pears and some other fruit. 

Did I say that we had only one pear on our tree this year?  Don't know how it escaped the frost! .And no apples.  I struggled with watering in the vegetable beds, even though I've got good soil and mulch and do watering at ground level, and interplant so plants fill in space to shade the soil and prevent evaporation.  I did so much thinking about where water was going to this summer!  If I watered in one of the vegetable beds, so that water went down 6-8 inches for roots ... how much of it was migrating out into the paths between the beds?  There's pure science at work in the soil.  Areas that need water take it.  Should I begin experimenting with raised beds that have a less permeable bottom - creating healthy, living soil in the beds ... but a closed system to retain the water.  And on the occasions that it did rain I watched the rain wash down the asphalt roads and parking areas that are nearby.  It makes me crazy!  But, I've mentioned that before.

Back to Bill McKibben.  He has some good books out and is founder of ( is a good source for information about global warming and has information about projects around the world that are bringing attention to global warming's immediacy. Check it out.

Very best to you,

Why's Woman

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Help stop the Canada China Investiment Treaty

Well, hello everyone.  I hope you are having a good day.

I was, until I got an email about the Canada-China Investment Treaty, yet another free-trade style profit-oriented agreement, with a fifteen year duration, penalty clauses for getting out of it, and - to top it off - with a country that has a lousy human rights record.  Yeah, I know ... we're already sucked into China because we've sold out our manufacturing and labour to the cheap offshore.  But this agreement is specifically a Harper arrangement ... that's Prime Minister Harper ... who you would guess rightly just by my tone that I'm not a fan of.  

Here's the test ... let's see how long this post stays up without my site being hacked by the web-roving Harper minions.

To the treaty ... head off to the Green Party page

or keep reading,  

In grumpiness, although with Best regards,

Why's Woman

What Has Harper Done?

On September 9th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper signed an agreement with China, the Canada-China Investment Treaty. The agreement was kept from the Canadian public and Parliament until September 26th, 2012, when it was quietly made public, tabled in the House of Commons. No press release. No technical briefing.  The deal is set for automatic approval. No vote or debate will take place in the House.  Once tabled in the House, the clock started ticking.  21 sitting days from September 26 (October 31), this treaty will bind Canada.

Red Carpet for China

So what is the Canada-China Investment Treaty? Simply put, it is the most significant trade agreement signed by Canada since NAFTA. Only this time our “partner” is the communist government in Beijing, an authoritarian regime with an appalling record on human rights –and it isn’t getting better. This deal requires that Chinese government-owned companies be treated exactly the same as Canadian companies operating in Canada. Once in force, it lasts a minimum of 15 years. If a future government wants to get out of it, a one year notice is required – and even once the treaty is cancelled, any existing Chinese operations in Canada are guaranteed another 15 years of the treaty’s benefits.
We at the Green Party of Canada believe there are many flaws in that agreement. And we think Canadians should know about them:

1. Open bar for Chinese state-owned enterprises

The Canada-China Investment Treaty means easier takeovers of Canadian assets, especially in the resource sector. In the context of the possible takeover of Nexen by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), it is crucial that we collectively pause to consider the wisdom of granting Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such an easy access to our natural resources.

2. The right for China to claim damages over Canadian laws

The Canada-China Investment Treaty allows Chinese companies (including state-owned enterprises) to sue the Government of Canada over decisions that can limit or reduce their expectation of profits. In treaty language, this is called “tantamount to expropriation.”  China can claim damages against Canada for decisions at the municipal, provincial, territorial or federal level.  Even decisions of our courts can give rise to damages. The damage claims start with six months of diplomatic negotiation. If that fails, damage claims move to arbitration – behind closed doors.  

4. Secret hearings

The Canada-China Investment Treaty would allow Chinese investors to sue Canada outside of Canadian courts. Special arbitrators would take the decisions. These arbitrators, unlike judges, do not have secure tenures or set salaries. Their decision cannot be subject to judicial review. And the arbitrations are to be secret. Even the fact they are happening is to be secret.

5.Right to be heard

Only the federal government is allowed to take part in the arbitration process. Provincial governments or Canadian companies, even if their interests are affected, do not have the right to voice their concerns during the arbitration process.

6. China’s obsession for secrecy

The Canada-China Investment Agreement makes Chinese lawsuits secret . At any time, we will not know if we are being sued and who will decide the case. We will not know what our government is saying on our behalf. We will not know if Canada has been ordered to change government decisions. This is a complete U-turn for Canada who has always insisted on complete openness in investor-state arbitration, for example when signing the Canada-US-Mexico free trade deal.

7. Restrictions on our use of our own resources

The Canada-China Investment Treaty requires that if, in the future, Canada wants to conserve natural resources (fisheries, water, oil, uranium, forests --  everything is covered), and reduce Chinese access to these resources, we are only allowed to do so to the extent we limit our own use of those natural resources.

What the Greens have done

The day after the Canada-China Investment Treaty was made public on September 26th by the Conservatives, Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May held a press conference to warn Canadians on the dangers of the treaty with China. The following day, Elizabeth wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons demanding an emergency debate about the deal. The Speaker turned down May’s request, saying it did not meet the tests of an emergency.
So far we are the only party raising the issue, demanding debate and alerting Canadians to the threat -- reduced sovereignty, reduced democracy, all for more Chinese ownership of Canada's resources.
We now call on Canadian citizens to also demand a democratic process for Canada’s ratification of the Canada-China Investment Treaty while we still have time.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting beyond what's making us sick

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Good morning everyone,

Over the last few weeks the vulnerabilities of the human body have come much closer than I like.  I'm fine, for which I'm thankful (just passing Canadian Thanksgiving, I guess I should use that word).

However, I've accompanied one friend to "the surgeon" while she discusses her second hip replacement, and accompanied another friend to a biopsy (results come back pretty soon).  A third friend has been having heart problems; medications haven't quite sorted it yet, but there are good possibilities. A community leader who I respect hugely had some serious surgery a month back; he seems to be making a good recovery, but will have changes in his physical self; he actually posted some excellent social comments during his early recovery.  And just today I've found out that a woman I respect and count on for her local political analysis has come through a bout of cancer and her husband has just had a serious surgery, and come through.

For all the complaints we hear about "wait times" our health care system - and the thousands and thousands of people who really are the health care net - is doing its best to take care of us.  And I am thankful for it.

The health problems most friends have been having are common health problems in their over 50 age group.

Put together with the rise in cancers, ALS, immune system problems ... and arthritis, fibromyalgia, attention deficit disorders and repetitive strain injuries ... I am more convinced than ever that a large percentage of health problems are begun by, or made worse by the toxic soup of pollutants in our air, water and soil (and consequently in our food).  And made worse again by the job and activity styles that contemporary life has brought.

I may not be expressing myself well, because I'm feeling sort of battered by all the news from people lately.  But I'll get all this into the context of working for a healthier environment, through gardening and simpler living ... working my way to recommitting to do something about it all.  (check out your local Transition group!)

After all, this blog is "Saving the World in My Spare Time".

Best regards to all of you,

Why's Woman

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Morning rant - car drivers

Good morning everyone,

Hope you all have a good day today.  I started out my day the way I love to: writing a note to a city official about something I read in the paper. 

Best regards, Why's Woman

Dear ..........

Just read the Freeps article about the new pedestrian crossings. I'd noticed them.  Drivers may notice them more, but will they change a bad habit? (

I don't own a car. 

As a pedestrian, I absolutely hate it when cars come creeping up at me when I'm crossing the road.  Some will come within three or four feet.  I'm talking about situations when I'm still in the lane the driver is turning into, not once I've passed the driver's path.  Drivers forget the training from Driver Ed: if another car hits you from behind as you're are turning like this, your car goes in the direction your wheels are turned ... in this case, right into the pedestrian.  I'm old enough now, that I'll often stop and stand in front of the car and wave at and speak to the driver (no swearing, but enough expression that they get the gist). 

Also too, there are lots of situations where I'm stopped on a sidewalk corner, watching a driver looking left and looking left and looking left - never once looking to the right where I'm standing.  This is often at a corner like St. George/Oxford, when the driver is going to turn left/west from the south St. George; I'd be on the SW corner.  It is not unusual for a driver to move the car two or three feet forward before turning her/his head to look to the right.  I love the look on their face when I'm ready, waving both hands and smiling an exaggerated smile.  Boy do they jump!

And while I'm on about things ...

Blackfriar's Bridge, which we know many (if not most) drivers no longer treat as a two way bridge (and yes, I know there's discussion every two years about what to do with it).
How about starting with signs similar to those that are on the Western university (from Righmond Street) bridge?
1.  Do not pass on bridge
2. Do not pass bicycles on bridge
3.  Do not pass on yellow line (this on the approach to the bridge from the east side) 
... when I'm cycling (my other means of transportation), I go down this slope in the middle - to take command of the space and because the right hand edge is bumpy.  I've been counting. Three cars out of 5 pass me on this slope.  And I know they are at a speed above 20 km per hour (sometimes way above).  The fastest guys in particular are the ones who, if they can go right over the bridge without waiting for someone coming down the middle from the other direction, themselves go right down the middle - at well over 20 km. 

And, put in a Do not pass yellow line on the block approaching the bridge from the west side.
No doubt traffic lights on the two bridge approach are part of the every two year discussion?

Unfortunately, there are enough inattentive drivers that no number of signs and cautions will get through to them.  I couldn't tally up the number of times that, as both pedestrian and cyclist, I've had a driver say to me: "Oh, I didn't see you."  I've had a range of responses to this, probably depending on the fear-generated level I'm experiencing at the time.

Transit cameras and automatic tickets?

I'd love to see what Terry O'Reilly - the advertising guy - could do to craft a campaign directed to pedestrians and cyclists that humously starts from the idea that "You know car drivers are out to get you ... watch them every minute."  And have humour ways of dealing with the drivers - pop up signs from our grocery bags and backpacks.  STOP!  ...   DON'T MOVE!   ...   BACK! BACK!      Maybe the drivers that see them will think. Nah!.

There's my morning rant.

Thanks for listening. 

Best regards,

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A dilly of a surprise!

Good morning everyone,

Yes, it's very bad pun.

Yesterday I harvested some dill.  A metre square section of ground is covered in it, thanks to a plant that sheds its seeds all 'round.

This morning there were three "parsleyworms" - the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly.  '

They were just waking up in the sun, starting to move, probably wondering why the "juice" in the dill stems didn't taste fresh.  I've returned them all to the garden ... nestled them in the fine foliage. 

Now it's up to them to find the fresh stems.

And wonder what kind of funny dream they all had.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rachel Carson's message more important than ever

Good morning,

I hope you are all well. 

Do you feel a different energy in September?  Is the start of autumn your New Year?  It is for me, and combined  with the energy of cooler temperatures and two rainfalls I'm feeling better than I have in a while.

By two steps of the serendipity that guides my life and this blog, this morning I found the wonderful Orion Magazine ( by happening upon an article by a writer/educator whose work I respect, ecologist Sandra Steingraber.

In The Fracking of Rachel Carson: Silent Spring’s lost legacy, told in fifty parts Steingraber weaves together information about Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, with factual information about fracking, and its effects on people.  (

This is the first article I've managed to get through about fracking.  I've heard about it of course ... it has to do with the injection of water and chemicals and explosives deep, deep into holes and pipes underground to disrupt trapped gas, and capture it for use.  The first time someone told me about fracking, and I commented, I was called "niaive".  I'd said that surely you cannot put holes and chemicals underground without messing up all sorts of things you'd never expect to mess up.  Steingraber's article gives readable text that explains just how messed up things get when fracking is done.  Water tables are polluted, animals and people get sick - very sick. 

The "hook" that got me through Steingraber's article was the link she made with Rachel Carson and her work.  As Steingraber says about Carson: "She sat on a mountaintop and thought about oceans".  For me, there is incredible beauty in this image of scientist, dreamer, and visionary ... and thanks Sandra for giving me this gift.

Fracking is causing horrendous pollution and health problems to the land, water and living creatures in the lands around Rachel Carson's most beloved home turf, the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania, where hawks fly over geologic remnants of oceans.  That contrast inspired Carson to a lifetime of study.

After Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, she spent much time speaking to groups about the damaging effects of petrochemicals on the environment.  She also defended her comments to media and committees, and rebutted attacks by chemical industries. She kept secret that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and was thus denied her detractors opportunity to call her non-objective, or, in the terms of the times, a complaining woman.

Steingraber quotes in her article from Carson's final speech (Oct. 1963, in San Francisco)

"Underlying all of these problems of introducing contamination into our world is the question of moral responsibility. . . . [T]he threat is infinitely greater to the generations unborn; to those who have no voice in the decisions of today, and that fact alone makes our responsibility a heavy one."

I have a new realization of the truth of this.

Last week I had the joy of holding a new baby, just four days old.  She was so tiny.  She is perfect.  She yawned and wriggled in my arms and I was completely overwhelmed by the energy in her stretch and the strength concentrated in her tightened fist.  She's not my child.  She's not a relative.  She's the first child of an intelligent, caring woman I know and her equally good husband.  And I loved this child in my arms with the resolve I felt when I met my goddaughter for the first time over twenty-one years ago. 

Babies are good for us.  They renew us to our most deep and passionate connection to others, to nurture, and protect.

I encourage you to read Sandra Steingraber's article, and read or reread Silent Spring at its 50th anniversary.

Much love to all of you,

Why's Woman

The Fracking of Rachel Carson: Silent Spring’s lost legacy, told in fifty parts
Sandra Steingraber. Orior Magazine, September/October 2012,

Sandra Steingraber narrates a slide show about the fracking of Rachel Carson’s homeground at This article was made possible by generous support from the Park Foundation