FOOD MATTERS: Hunger drives self-sufficiency effort

“For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional.”

“For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional. When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage, and human health, it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not.”

This is the opening statement of The Rodale Institute’s just-released report, The Farming Systems Trial, the result of a 30-year study comparing organic and chemical agriculture.

“The present paradigm of intensive crop production cannot meet the challenges of the new millennium,” says Jacques Diouff, director-general of the United Nations’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

In January, the UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, said “small-scale farming can be extremely productive per hectare; it is very efficient in its use of natural resources.”

“Every food empire overextends itself. So will the modern one, for all its technological talent,” say Fraser and Rimas in Empires of Food.

So why do realtors and their customers still think housing is ‘the highest and best use’ of land?

About 25 years ago, I followed our middle child into the Girl Guide movement because I wanted to learn how to be self-sufficient.

All my life I have been aware that I lack survival skills, that I would find it difficult to manage without electricity, store-bought food and plenty of cash to buy everything I need. I cannot describe how much it meant to me to learn to replace money with personal resourcefulness.

I also had the accidental good sense to marry a man brought up on a small farm, who can turn his hand to every practical chore, as farmers do.

As it turned out, Al was more interested in growing dahlias than vegetables when we married, but he took it to heart when I rhapsodized over my Vancouver uncle’s food garden and he began, magically, to produce crops resulting in sizeable harvests annually.

I learned how to bottle and freeze the harvests so that our family was fed healthy food year-round. And when we moved to the Island, we started a flock of chickens and got on to the customer lists of friends who produced beef, lamb and pork.

Since I read an article by Susan Gregory Thomas, (NY Times, Oct. 8), I feel more hopeful about our ability to make the transition from urban incompetence to local self-sufficiency.

After losing her job, she began, of necessity, to garden for food. With laconic gutsiness, she concludes:

“Even if things turn around financially, I don’t think I could stomach going to Whole Foods (except maybe for olive oil) because my biggest revelation in terms of self-sufficiency is this: It is no big deal. You can tell yourself anything is too difficult, or you can just do it. And you do not need to reconstruct your worldview or take issue with others.

You just need to be hungry.”


Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at

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