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Erin Advocate

May 18, 2011

Biodiversity will help us adapt to climate change

By Phil Gravelle

I can hardly wait to pick my Royal Burgundy Bush Beans. Of course, I still have to plant them, water them, weed them and thin them. But at picking time, they will be very easy to find among the green leaves, since they grow as violet-purple pods. The package promises that they will "magically turn an emerald green after cooking".

This version of the phaseolus vulgaris (common bean) was highly recommended when I attended a planting workshop with farmer Carl Keast. It was part of the annual Seedy Saturday event, on April 30 at Everdale Farm near Hillsburgh.

There were seed and plant vendors, a seed trading table, fun stuff for kids, advice on growing berries in your back yard from Ann Brown (the Plant Lady), and a chance to hear Cathy Nesbitt explain how red wigglers can quickly turn food scraps and paper into rich fertilizer. Her ventures include worm composting kits, compost consulting, manure management and even worm birthday parties. Check it out at

Our fruit and vegetable garden will expand this year, but there's no way it is going to feed us consistently. And since there is still no farmer's market in Erin, I took the plunge and bought into the Everdale Harvest Share program. I like the flexibility of the plan, which allows you to buy from 16 to 20 weeks worth of produce.

You get a certain number of "points", based on the size of share you buy. A small share works out to $18.64 per week and an extra large to $55.92 per week. The produce is priced in points, instead of dollars, and you spend your points as you please each week, starting June 16. Produce is available for pick-up at the farm only on Thursdays, 3-8 pm and Saturdays, 8:30-11 am. For more details, go to

The seeds I bought were "organic certified", which means the production process has been inspected to ensure it is generally free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with no use of genetically modified organisms or biosolids (sewage sludge fertilizer).

They were also "heirloom" seeds, meaning that they have been preserved within a longstanding seed line, and are normally pollinated naturally by insects, birds and wind.

They are less common in the seed market, which is controlled by a handful of companies that have phased out many types of seeds. A much narrower range of crops has been developed through closed pollination, breeding the ability to withstand specific weather conditions, pesticides, mechanical picking and cross-country shipping.

One of the most interesting events on Seedy Saturday was a discussion on biodiversity, hosted by Faris Ahmed, Director of Policy and Campaigns at USC Canada. The non-profit group promotes family farms, rural communities and healthy ecosystems in developing nations, and advocates reform of food policies in Canada. Learn more at

Last year was the United Nations Year of Biodiversity, with a focus on the accelerating loss of variety in plant and animal life due to human activity.

"It's not about biology, it's about life itself now," said Ahmed. "It is so important for health, our planet and for social justice. Biodiversity is the best measure of a healthy place. It is like an insurance policy...a system being resistant to shocks."

Biodiversity issues range from the need for a wide variety in the human diet for good nutrition, to the rights of farmers throughout the world to maintain fertile land and grow what is needed to sustain their local communities. Variety within crop types increases resilience to pests, disease and the warming climate, but USC Canada reports that 75 per cent of the world's crop varieties and thousands of livestock breeds have been lost in the last century.

Large-scale farming for international trade demands less biodiversity, and it is not working well for farmers in Canada or abroad. Canada lost 17,550 farms between 2001 and 2006 and the average farm income in Canada is now negative $20,000 per year, according to the website Food exports have increased by 400 per cent in the last 20 years, and farm subsidies are an entrenched global reality, costing Canadian taxpayers billions each year, and putting poorer nations at a disadvantage.

Climate change is expected to have a huge impact on drylands, mountain regions and seacoasts, and on the small-scale farmers who feed the majority of people in the world. If we cannot give priority to biodiversity over short term gain, the risks for our species, and others, appear to be severe.


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Bradford, Ontario
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