The recent rise in popularity of tiny homes coupled with our visit to Blue Jay Lake Farm on Cortez Island has brought up some questions for me regarding the reasons more and more people are choosing this route when it comes to housing. At first glance, tiny homes make a lot of sense. Land and houses are expensive so if you don’t own land and don’t have much money, building a relatively cheap home that is moveable makes a lot of sense. It makes having a place to call home a realistic possibility while also allowing the ability to move the home if the time comes when the land you are living on is no longer made available to you. The homes we were shown were also designed to be very energy efficient using passive solar systems in their design that allowed for reduced energy consumption.
It does make a lot of sense. Having a place to call your own that is energy efficient, affordable, made with repurposed building materials and is movable IS a realistic, more sustainable and environmentally responsible option. The trouble I have with the tiny home concept arises from larger societal issues regarding the costs of land and living and unequal distribution of wealth.
The question is if access to land and homes wasn’t so limited, would you choose to live in a home that is a mere 300 square feet. Perhaps some of you would but I know I wouldn’t. I certainly don’t ever picture myself living in a mansion but I do feel that living in a home where there is space to move freely, work on large projects and have friends over for a gathering without feeling squished is a pretty important part of having a home.
In a sense I feel that the rising popularity of tiny homes really demonstrates the concept of the ‘individualisation of responsibility’. People get caught up in thinking that they as an individual through their personal choices and how they live their lives can change the world. In a lot of important ways this is true but it also deflects responsibility away from established social and political institutions that rely on inequalities, oppression and exploitation.
People make the choice to build and live in a tiny home for all the right reasons but my concern is that the idea gets kind of romanticized and the underlying reasons and larger societal problems aren’t considered. In my opinion, people are choosing to live in tiny homes because it is what they can afford. They are building homes that are movable because they can’t afford to buy land and don’t have long term stability on the land that they do have access to. This points to a much larger problem, one that will not be fixed one tiny home at a time.
Livestock and cows in particular are pretty amazing and they don’t really get the credit they deserve. We as humans rely on them heavily for meat and milk and for the most part they get treated pretty horribly. Just watch any video of a factory farm or a slaughter house and you’ll more than likely feel pretty disgusted and consider becoming vegetarian.
When I was growing up we had cows, but they were more like pets and a part of the family. That was the same feeling I got when our group was introduced to the herd at Linnaea farm. They didn’t ride the cows like I did when I was a kid, but they certainly played a large role within the complex ecological and social system that is the Linnaea farm community. In exchange for room and board and being well cared for the Linnaea herd provides meat and milk and manure and do their part in the creation of a sustainable and self-sufficient system.
They fertilize the fields where the grass grows that turns into the hay they eat. Their manure is composted and used in the vegetable garden. Their milk is used and turned into butter and yogurt and cheese. Except for the part where they eventually get eaten, these cows have got it pretty good. How the animals are treated on Linnaea made me think about the importance of having respect for all living creatures and the linkage there with the ethics behind permaculture. Yes, in this case they will be eaten, but the goal in the mean time is to ensure they are able to live healthy and natural lives in a sanitary environment.
Tamara explained to us the practice of ‘deep bedding’ which means that instead of being on bare floor covered in their own excrement as most cows are, a very thick layer of straw is provided and maintained. She also showed us her complex system for ‘intensive grazing’ where the cows are allotted a specific patch for eating fresh grass and it is changed every 24 hours.
There are many aspects of the systems involving the cows at Linnaea farm that seem quite natural and make a lot of sense. When you see how the animals are treated there it makes you wonder why it would be done any other way. Sadly this is not the experience of most animals bred as livestock and it was very inspiring to see first hand what it can be like for animals when the humans who own them treat them with respect and make their well being a priority over economic gain. This basic permaculture principle is an integral piece of the foundation toward the building of a just, healthy and sustainable future.
As university students in Victoria, life can get busy. In and out of class, we are repeatedly pumping out essay after essay and spending long, late hours at night studying for exams. Opportunities for rest, relaxation and to disconnect from the hectic city life are few and far between. When the ES 470 – Intro to Permaculture class was presented with the option of partaking in a Field School, a class that would happen at Linnaea Farm on Cortes Island, few of us could say no. The class of amazing and passionate students, with passionate instructors together in a hands-on learning environment facilitated deep inspirational learning. Twenty one students set out to Linnaea Farm we weren’t really sure what to expect, we knew it was about permaculture but I venture to say that not one of were prepared for this life changing experience.
(This face carving in an old tree was found by the Klahoose Nation on Cortes Island, They were kind enough to share this with us. We are excited to learn more about the history of this artifact.)
Cortes is remote, not remote like Alaska, remote in the sense of multiple ferries, many exciting distractions along the route, limited cellphone reception and sparse Internet availability. Immediately upon arrival, the smiling faces greeted us, welcoming waves warmed us, and the helpful hints of Cortesians led us. The warm sun, the soft breeze, the calm water and clean air had me feeling healthy. Linnaea Farm is big, 316-acres of covenant-protected land that is mixed-use agricultural and conservation with 8 super land stewards and their children that keep the farm lively and thriving.
I felt at home on Cortes Island, Like most of my classmates. This place was magical, inspiring and the perfect place to learn the skills of permaculture and being a productive member of a community. The lessons learned and experience gained on this trip have positively shaped 21 blessed students from UVIC.
Slow down, love, learn and live!
While talking with John in the production garden someone asked him about his perspective on pest management when it comes to small scale agriculture. We got into an interesting conversation about the long term versus short term impacts of pest control on food crops. I asked what he thought about using neem oil as a method of dealing with insects that damage crops. In my view, neem oil is great, it’s organic and I’ve found it to be very effective when dealing with aphid attacks on kale in particular.
His response was very interesting. He started talking about tent caterpillars and asked if anyone could remember a few years back when they were really bad. I remembered it well because at the time I worked at a farm that had an orchard and spent days cutting the tents out of the fruit trees and burning them. It was pretty epic. He explained that soon after all those caterpillars appeared, they started getting attacked by parasitic wasps. The wasp numbers grew quickly too and soon enough tons of the caterpillars had a little yellow dot on them that indicated that they had been attacked by a wasp. The next year, and even ever since then, the caterpillar population hasn’t been much of an issue. He laughed and emphasized that this was natures way of taking care of itself.
The caterpillars had been so bad that initial year that some folks wanted to overhead spray, and I think in some places they actually did. John speculated that the spray would have been a chemical that killed a lot of other insects too, and that it most likely would have killed the wasps that ended up keeping the caterpillars in check. If those wasps had all been wiped out, then what would happen the next time the caterpillars came back? There wouldn’t be anything to regulate their population size and in the long term all the fruit trees could have had it much worse.
This conversation left me with questions about the choices we make when it comes to pest management strategies on agricultural food crops. It made me wonder if sometimes it might be better to let nature take it’s course and accept sacrificing a crop here and there. In the short term, if we spray every insect that comes along with neem or a chemical pesticide/insecticide, sure we might get a higher rate of production on kale that year, but what are the possible long term consequences? Perhaps the natural world and its long term ecological cycles have a simpler, efficient and more sustainable way of keeping things like insect infestations in check.
On our first brief visit to the market garden at Linnaea farm last week, we were told not to ask any questions and that we were just grabbing Jeff so he could show us some mushroom patches that were being used as mycoremediation. We all walked over to a small dam that had been built on the creek and he began to explain about the recent algal bloom in the lake. Algal blooms are caused by an excess of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus which can come from a variety of sources including fertilizers and livestock manure.
Jeff explained that 90% of the water that reaches the lake passes through the Linnaea property. Due to the recent algal blooms, they had decided to create a‘buffer’ between their cows and the lake. They had built a small dam in order to slow the flow of the water so it could be filtered of excess nutrients before reaching the lake. Beside the dam, up on the bank, they had piled and spread out a large amount of wood chips that had been inoculated with Garden Giant mushroom spores. Although there weren’t any mushrooms there when we visited, we were told that they were plentiful and delicious when in season. Unlike plants that are used in this way to uptake heavy metals such as lead, these mushrooms were edible. I was kind of blown away. I knew that certain plants could be used to filter toxins from the ground but it hadn’t occurred to me that they could also be used to absorb excess nutrients.
The mycoremediation process also stuck me because it clearly demonstrated the permaculture design concept of multiple functions. It’s definitely a double bonus when the lake can be assisted through the uptake of excess nutrients that are utilized to produce delicious mushrooms for consumption. These types of strategies have enormous potential at the larger scale and I look forward to learning more about them and contributing to the development and implementation of these awesome permaculture ‘solutions’.