Regular readers know this blog has been inactive for the past four months. The Post Carbon Institute, which used to host the blog, decided at the end of 2008 to dedicate its full organizational energy to its think tank mission. The Post Carbon Institute assisted with the transition to our new WordPress host, where the Energy Farms Network blog now resides as an independent entity. Thanks to all our faithful followers who kept checking back during the months when nothing seemed to be happening.
Times of change offer opportunities to reflect on our purpose and our past. The Energy Farms Network started in 2006, in Vancouver, British Columbia, where students working on an organic farm on the University of British Columbia campus started blogging about their experiments with low-input production of energy crops including canola, Jerusalem artichoke, kenaf, and flax. The Post Carbon Institute supported their efforts, with a view to exploring small-scale production of biofuel and biogas. Early projects at the UBC Farm also included experiments with wind and solar generators.
I first learned of the Energy Farm project at the end of 2006, when I visited the UBC farm to see my brother, Mark, the farm manager.
“The goal,” he explained, “is to find intermediate tools and methods that work at reducing a farmer’s dependence on petrol-powered machines. At the same time, we also want to find ways of conserving needless physical labor…”
There was another component of the project that appealed to me. The challenges and lessons of these experiments were communicated through emerging media, like blogs and videos posts, making them accessible to audiences that might otherwise have little contact with farmers.
I will visit the UBC farm again later this month. A lot has happened since I was last there. Threats of housing development on the farm galvanized student and community support, culminating in a celebration on Tuesday in which 1800 people marched from the center of campus to the farm to urge UBC to keep the farm where it is. For now, at least, it looks like they’ll get their way.
Perhaps they were inspired by books like The 100-Mile Diet, written by a couple who depended on the UBC Farm for food during their quest to eat locally for a year.
Perhaps it was support from science broadcaster David Suzuki, who was working with new media to communicate scientific information for decades before the Energy Farms Network began:
We are, as a species, undermining the very life support systems of the planet. I think part of the problem we face today is that most of us live in big cities, where it’s very difficult to see how what we do is impacting the rest of the planet. […] When you’re a farmer, or involved in agricultural activities, you know that the seasons are important; you know whether the weather’s getting warmer in summers or colder in the winters. You can notice those things because the environment and nature are very very important to being a good farmer. […] I think one of the great challenges we need is to come back into balance with the natural world, and nothing allows us to do that better than being involved in growing the very food that you eat.
Perhaps they were inspired by Vancouver’ s mayor, Gregor Robertson, a “recovering farmer” who recognizes the importance of local sustainable agriculture in the context of peak oil and climate change:
“In a world with peak oil and accelerating climate change, the importance of local food security has never been greater. We’ve seen entire civilizations wiped out because of a lack of food security, and it’s going to be really critical in this next phase of human existence that we value the land, the soil, and the people that look after and grow our food. And we’ve got to ensure, particularly in an urban setting, that we’re focused on a good solid locally-based food system. UBC Farm is a critical piece of that.”
Perhaps they were inspired by author Michael Pollan, who will visit the UBC Farm in June:
“If we’re really serious about tackling climate change we’re going to have to take a very hard look at the food system and basically wean it from fossil fuel to the extent we can. […] If you go back a hundred years, you could produce two calories of food for every one calorie you put into the system, and that was usually for tractors and things like that — farm equipment. Today in the United States it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food. That is a deeply unsustainable situation.”
The UBC Farm has not been involved with the Energy Farms Network for the past two years, but this blog has served as a forum for similar projects in Willits, California; Sebastapol, California; Rogue River, Oregon; and the Kentucky State University study that I work on near Frankfort, Kentucky. I hope that others will use the Energy Farms blog as a forum to share information about their own work on creating a more sustainable food system, that does not rely on fossil fuels.