Life and thoughts from a small-scale organic farm . . . and its farmers

This is a blog that explores ideas around the growing of food and community at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Two world views: Scarcity and Abundance

I have to admit that I have started every week this season with a level of stress that I haven't experienced in previous years of farming. The flooding of late-June and early-July created a new set of challenges we haven't had to deal with before.

Each week I wonder what we'll have to put in the CSA boxes and what we'll have to send to markets. I wonder if we'll have to send smaller boxes or cancel our participation at a farmers market. I look at the crop areas that were impacted by the floods and then the crops that weren't touched and are thriving. And each week I am surprised by the amount of produce on hand to complete orders.

What this season has taught me is that there are two worldviews: scarcity and abundance. Within a scarcity perspective, we live in fear -- fear that there won't be enough and that we must hoard when something is available. From the perspective of abundance, there is always enough -- enough to get us through in lean times, especially when we pull together and co-operate and collaborate. Sometimes we can be surprised by abundance, because it seems so unlikely, but we need only look a bit harder to find it.

By this time in the season, I had wanted to be sending CSA members bags of tomatoes, lots of zucchinis and a diversity of lettuce, potatoes and carrots. That isn't happening. But the zucchinis, most of which spent a good week underwater, pulled through and are providing us with enough to put some in the boxes. Our planting of carrots is providing a share to everyone, although not enough to feed an entire family. And the cucumbers and sweet onions are going crazy.

Then, on Tuesday, I walked into an area of the field that has driven me crazy this year. It's a clay soil that is hard. There are a lot of crops we can't plant there because the soil is too rough. Slugs hiding under the lumps of clay finished off early plantings of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower during the rains of the spring.

But I watch each year as alliums (onions and shallots) thrive in this area. Squash also do well in the area. This year, an experimental crop of artichokes that we were sure would be dead after transplanting is producing a good 60 artichokes a week. And yesterday when I looked in on a section of cabbages I've been coaxing along -- not in their usual abundance, but some are growing nonetheless -- I found a bunch of Napa Cabbages. Not just a few, but 37 that were ready for harvest -- exactly enough for the CSA full shares this week. Enough.

I know after the events of the past few years that things are changing. Weather is not predictable and extremes are causing havoc. We received word this week that feed prices for chicken and goat feed have gone up by 20% overnight, the result of market speculation amidst the worst drought across the United States and Eastern Canada in 50 years.

Amidst uncertainty and changing times, we can choose our perspective. A perspective of abundance isn't always easy, but in my experience it opens up more opportunities through collaboration and sharing than by bunkering down and cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world.

Last week I sent garlic in the CSA boxes. The garlic variety was passed along to me by the Ukrainian neighbours I grew up with. Despite this precious gift, there is a gap in my farming history. My grandparents made their own decision to leave farming. My Ukrainian grandfather sold the farm in Saskatchewan on a day when everyone else was away -- some security to make sure no one would try to stop him from signing the papers. When his family returned, it was a done deal. He told his children that he wanted to make sure none of his family would ever farm again.

I don't know what my grandfather would make of my current occupation -- whether he would approve or shake his head in disbelief at the short memory of new generations. And I wonder what he would make of the CSA model, of people paying for their food ahead of the season and sticking it out with the farmers. I can't really even imagine his reaction because I never met him.

But I do know that despite their own discouragement with farming, my grandparents always had enough. The seeds they brought from Ukraine, probably seemed as unlikely a form of insurance as their dreams were to take root in a land of uncertainty. Every year they replanted and every year they harvested something. I know how unlikely it seems that we will get a harvest from the tiny seeds we plant every year. Yet if we didn't trust in them, in their potential abundance, it would be impossible to keep trying.


  1. Such a great read..I am moved by your story around abundance and of scarcity...funny, I am going through a similar challenge in my own life right now. I am encouraged after reading this. It is nice to have enough....more than nice.

    Chef Ikeena~


    Great documentary on organic farming! Just though I'd share.

  3. Chris, I urge you to keep at it and I am reminded of a line from "true love for nature and a deep passion for food and taste." Organic farming is a passion worth all its hard work. May your farm continue to be abundant.